Simmons’ comments from first radio show

Marty Simmons

Marty Simmons took to the airwaves Monday night for his first weekly radio show from the Turoni’s by campus. The show is broadcast at 6 p.m. most Mondays during the season on 91.5 WUEV.

Here’s some of what the Aces’ coach had to say.

Simmons said UE still isn’t as far along as he’d hoped: “We just haven’t had the carryover (from practice), and now we’re going to play what I think is one of the better teams in the country. We’ve really got to step it up. Even tonight in practice — we’re not awful, but we just aren’t as sharp as you have to be if you’re going to compete at a high level. With the returning players we have, that’s a little disappointing. We’ll just continue to work at it, stress, talk and teach.”

Said rebounding and turnovers both better against Illinois Springfield, and, “Defensively, at times, we’ll see some improvements, and usually it’s at the start of the game or after a timeout. Again, after we change ends three or four times, we lose our attention to detail and jumping to the basketball and communication and so on and so forth. That’s an area that we have to improve upon.”

Simmons wants the Aces to be patient when running their offense: “We’ve got a versatile team, and if we share it, run hard and get right into the offense, we can be a tough team to defense. And my biggest thing is, I want our guys to make the other team guard us. Don’t settle. Don’t give in early in the (shot) clock unless it’s something we really want. I just think that we’ve got enough guys that if we reverse the basketball three or four times, we’re either going to get a great look or a drive that’s going to create some opportunities. That’s something we’re really working on hard in practice.”

On Egidijus Mockevicius: “We’re not set on who we’re going to start, but we knew (Illinois-Springfield was) going to start their big kid and we wanted to make sure he got some minutes. He’s had some difficulty with fouling in practice. He’s just adjusting to the physicality in what you can do and can’t do.”

What does Notre Dame do offensively? “If you turn it over, they turn it into points pretty quickly. They’ll push you. And then they spread it out, obviously, and they try to get looks for the big guy inside. They’re very good at passing and making the extra pass, they’ll set some ball screens to try and isolate him and get your defense rotating, because they’re excellent, excellent passers and they can all shoot the 3. From what we’ve been able to see, and it’s early, they keep it pretty simple, but they’re really good at it.”

On getting into Coaches vs. Cancer: “The league has mandated all the schools to play in what they call exempt tournaments…some can be very costly. Our staff does a good job of researching all the tournaments, and we’d actually originally planned to go to Vegas and spend a lot of money. This tournament (Coaches vs. Cancer) kind of opened up.”

On the 1 p.m. tip time against Notre Dame: “It doesn’t matter. I honestly am one of those guys who likes to get up ready to play. Go shoot, get a good meal, lace ‘em up and play. That’s not going to be a problem. We’re just excited, again, to get the season started and have the opportunity to play such a great program as Notre Dame.

On non-conference schedule difficulty after ESPN ranking it 9/10 difficulty: “Sometimes when you don’t have Indiana or Carolina on your schedule, you don’t get the credit for playing a difficult non-conference schedule. At Notre Dame, who’s in the top 25, and I’m just telling you Buffalo has an outstanding program, Yale’s got an outstanding team, Western Illinois, Tennessee Tech’s a team that went to the postseason last year. Murray State was a team ranked in the top 10 at one time, I believe. Colorado State’s getting votes. Butler’s getting votes. You can just go down the line. There’s a lot of great opportunities there, and if we’re a team that’s serious about having a chance to play in the postseason, then we’ve got to rise to the challenge.”

Simmons’ MVC media day comments

Marty Simmons

Marty Simmons fielded questions from Missouri Valley Conference beat writers for about 10 minutes on Monday during the league’s media day teleconference. Here’s what he had to say:

Impressions of being picked fifth: “I guess I don’t put a lot of stock into preseason rankings. I think Creighton is very well-deserved. They’ve got a tremendous amount of players back and coming off a terrific season. I’m sure they have good players recruited as well. It’s just hard for each program to recognize the new players and the impact they’re going to have.  I think more times than not, you look at where you finished the year before, guys you’ve back and so on and so forth. But it’s a start, and we’ll keep working at it.”

Do you feel like the MVC can be more than a one-bid league, and how does your team fit into that? “I certainly hope so…I look at last year, and I think had Illinois State won the tournament we probably would have had three teams in there. I think the league this year can be as good, if not better, than what it was last year. I just don’t look at – never have looked at – the Missouri Valley as a one-bid league. I just think with the coaches and players that are in this league and environments we play in, the competition that each school competes against and the success we’ve had in the non-conference that it warrants more than one bid.

How difficult is it to compete and win in the MVC with a young team? “It’s hard to compete and win with an old team. That’s just the nature of the beast with this league. It’s so well-recruited and well-coached, and again, I think the environments you play in night in and night out are tough. That’s some of the greatest selling points that we have in recruiting is, the competition and the atmospheres and everything are real difficult. I’d think having guys who have been through this more than others would help, but it just comes down to mentality, ability to execute and have guys step up in particular situations – all the things I’m sure each coach is talking to their team about right now.”

How is Egidijus Mockevicius doing? “He’s doing real well right now, and it’s been a slow transition in that he’s actually been in America 50 days now. So that part’s been kind of slow, just adapting to school work and terminology and things like that. He gets better every day, and he’s definitely somebody that as we move forward is going to make an impact on our team.”

Where would you like to see Colt Ryan take his game this year to get it to another level? “He’s really done that each and every year. He’s just a driven individual in that he has a passion for the game, loves living in the gym and works on different areas of his game. He’s always been able to raise that bar. He’s like a Peyton Manning. He loves to watch tape, learning about himself and his teammates and opponents. Leadership – I think every year he’s gotten better. If we’re to have any success at all it’s going to be because of our leadership, and he’s someone who takes great pride and tries to improve every part of his game. He’s as strong as he’s ever been. He’s as fit as he’s ever been. He obviously played very well the other night against Southern Indiana. He’s a driven young man.”

What kind of role do you expect for Jordan Nelson this year? “We’d like to see him in a more productive role. He’s an outstanding 3-point shooter, and he’s really working hard on his ball handling and his ability to run an offense from the point guard position. We look at him more as a combo guard that can get into position. We just need him to be more solid offensively and defensively, but he’s someone who we need to make an impact on our team.

Did the new practice facility show a need to invest in the program to keep up in the Valley? “Well, I think the big thing on that was just that when we played at Roberts Stadium, we really practiced out there at Roberts maybe 90 percent of the time. We didn’t really practice at the Carson Center a whole lot. Now with the Ford Center and the IceMen and hockey, they’ve done a great job of filling it and we don’t get the practice time in there. We felt like it would be something that not only in the future could enhance recruiting and things like that, but really from a space standpoint.”

How’s the makeup of the team change without Denver Holmes? “Denver and Kenny (Harris) both made big impacts on our team…Denver was a relentless cutter in our halfcourt offense, and his athletic ability allowed him to maybe create shots off catches that other players couldn’t do. He bought into being a guy who moved without the basketball. Defensively he was someone we counted on to be a stopper. We’re working on that now.”

Simmons talks hoops on the radio

Marty Simmons

UE coach Marty Simmons hasn’t started his weekly radio shows yet this season, but he appeared Friday with play-by-play man Lance Wilkerson on “All About Aces” ahead of Saturday’s USI game.

Here’s a sampling of what Simmons had to say:

—On having just two weeks of practice before playing a game: “You hit the nail on the head there. I don’t think two weeks is probably enough time to prepare for anyone, especially Southern Indiana.”

—Again said the team isn’t as far along at this point as he’d hoped with four scholarship seniors on the roster: “From our standpoint, facing such a great opponent right out the gate is going to be a great challenge…Well, at the end of the day, we’re going to learn a lot about our basketball team. It’s a great way to gauge where you’re at. It’s not always a pleasant thing. You can go back to the drawing board and use it as a teaching tool for your players.”

—On Egidijus Mockevicius: “He’s just learning every day. He’s got a ways to go, and we will continue to improve, and I think before his career is over at Evansville he has a chance to be one of the better big players who have been here.”

—Said freshman Adam Wing has a football mentality: “He’s a tough cookie. He really brings is every day. That kind of his mojo is, he loves to compete.”

—Said freshman D.J. Balentine can play either the one or two: “He can score the basketball in a variety of ways.”

—On freshman David Howard: “Smart, skilled” post player who’s adding muscle.

—On senior Troy Taylor: “He certainly was a great young man when he got here, but he’s gotten better both on the basketball floor and in the classroom. He’s a young man who exudes loving life…”

—On senior Colt Ryan: “What can you say that hasn’t already been said? He’s certainly done everything that’s been asked of him and more.”

Quotable from players, coach Simmons on USI

Coach Marty Simmons on his starting five: “I think that’ll be a work in progress, maybe for the entire year. I said last year a lot of times that we really had six starters – Ned was the sixth man. Now we’ve got enough guys that different combinations could start at any time. A lot of that’s based on performance, attitude and the way they practice. But I think to be successful, we’re going to need depth and for guys to accept roles.”

Simmons on why UE and USI don’t play every year: “One answer would be that we like to see different systems of play as we prepare for the season, because that’s really what the exhibition season does. It gives you a chance to evaluate your guys and learn from video as you prepare for the regular season. I think another thing is, if you did it every year it wouldn’t maybe mean as much. I don’t think there’s any clear-cut answer to that question, but I guess that would be mine as much as anything.”

Sophomore Jordan Jahr on taking a mindset into USI game: “I think really the only thing that’s different is the whole entire community is just really into this game. But other than that, for us, we’re just focusing on ourselves.”

Senior Colt Ryan on buzz about USI around campus: “I don’t know that I’ve heard a lot about it. We’ve been trying to get better in practice day by day, and we feel like we’ve still got a lot to improve upon before Saturday. That’s what we’ve tried to focus on.”

Freshman David Howard on the expected Ford Center atmosphere: “A couple people have said we might be let down at games after this because it’s going to be full. I’m definitely excited to see it.”

USI coach Watson talks UE, plus some game week links

Rodney Watson

University of Southern Indiana coach Rodney Watson conducted an early edition of his weekly radio show on Monday to talk about his team ahead of the Division II Screaming Eagles’ exhibition against UE.

Watson started by explaining more about how the Vectren Community Classic, which is set for a 7 p.m. Saturday tip, came together.

“Coach Simmons and I had talked earlier in the spring, and I gave him a call. I said, ‘Since I’ve been here, I’ve never made this call, but if it works for you guys I’d like for us to play,” Watsons said. “And he said, ‘Well, you know, let’s think about it.’”

Watson said exhibitions are typically finalized after regular-season schedules, hence the waiting. The USI coach then discussed dates and logistics with UE assistant Jimmy Elgas throughout the summer.

“It just all kind of fell in place, and we’re all grateful to the coach staff,” Watson said. “Coach Simmons — he’s really the one that made this happen. This game’s really good for both of our teams, but more than anything I think the game is really good for our community.”

And for more than a month since the schools announced their first exhibition, people have been talking basketball in Evansville.

“If you can get great publicity like that for free, you take it,” he said.

Watson said he will play his entire roster Saturday and expects Simmons and UE to do the same.

“Hopefully both teams will have a good workout, Watson said. “They’re going to play their guys. We’re going to play all of our guys. The game is going to be approached just like you’ve always seen the games of the past, but both teams are trying to win. Anytime there’s a scoreboard and you have uniforms, everybody’s trying to win the game.”

Watson said the Screaming Eagles plan to play at a faster pace this season than the last, when they went 24-7 and won the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament Championship.

USI will implore a man-to-man on Saturday, the coach said, and keep things simple on offense. He joked the Screaming Eagles may even have a sideline out-of-bounds play in place by game time.

As Saturday will mark the first meeting between the Aces and Screaming Eagles in four years, neither side knows much about the other coming in. Watson said he’ll watch tape of UE, but it’s not worth much — especially for an exhibition.

“We know their roster. We don’t know the personnel great,” he said. “We don’t know their offense. They’re like us, tweaking things here and there. You try and worry about yourself — about basic concepts…

“It’s not so much about preparation, scouting and doing tricky things. You just try to go out and play really hard for 40 minutes, give everybody a taste of what that’s like — you have real officials — and then you move on to the next one.”

As with many Division II programs, the Screaming Eagles welcome a number of newcomers this year. Coming back, they have senior Kenyon Smith, an Illinois State transfer and USI’s team captain.

Smith appeared on Watson’s radio show Monday and, when asked about the game, said, “You’ll just have to sit back and see what happens. Hopefully we come out on top.”

Here’s more on USI’s offseason from Courier & Press reporter Dan Korb:

Oct. 21: USI’s Ogunfolu working on his relaxation technique
Oct. 10: Wischmeier expects to benefit from USI’s uptempo style
Oct. 7: Rutledge should be a handful for USI’s basketball opponents
Sept. 30: USI point guard officially now Eagles’ ‘old man’
Sept. 22: Brinkmeyer ready to put knowledge, skills to work for USI basketball
Sept. 11: USI’s men’s basketball team adds size, shooting to its roster
Sept. 2: USI basektball team could follow Kenyon Smith down a winning path
July 13: Three forwards, point guard signed by USI men’s basketball

Aces stay healthy, serious during Hoopfest scrimmage

Coach Marty Simmons set a couple rules for his players before Thursday’s Hoopfest scrimmage:

No. 1, “Have fun.” And No. 2, “Don’t get hurt.”

Senior guard Ned Cox walked a fine line with the latter.

During the Aces’ dunk exhibition that preceded their scrimmage, Cox cut his hand on the rim, albeit mildly. And later during the 10-minute, running clock scrimmage, he stepped in to take a charge as senior Colt Ryan elevated for a dunk.

Cox got the call and continued playing.

Simmons, miked up during the scrimmage, simply said, “Nice job, Ned,” and smiled (it wasn’t the only time Simmons had the Ford Center crowd of about 2,000 laughing).

Cox may not want to take a second look at the poster-type play, but he said the Aces will watch tape of their scrimmage.

“We’re going to break down the film of the scrimmage just like a normal practice,” Cox said. “We’ll try to take something away from it.”

Yes, Thursday’s scrimmage was just that. But Simmons called timeouts to sub, mixed and matched lineups and never let his players get away from playing focused basketball.

“You’re constantly cultivating mentality,” Simmons said. “Mentality is what we believe is the most important thing — the way you think, the way you approach the game, the way you approach each other. I think that’s something we’ve taken a lot of pride in for a long time.

“That comes from coach (Jim) Crews when he was here. It’s the ability to come every day and work extremely hard.”

A few other Hoopfest observations:

—Sophomore forward Ryan Sawvell often matched up against the opposing power forward rather than center. He also attempted a 3-pointer that looked good but rimmed out. Sawvell didn’t try from long range once during a game as a freshman.

—Meanwhile, Egidijus Mockevicius is also still finding his role. The recently-cleared freshman missed some screens in the Aces’ motion offense and was often the last player down the court, at one point earning a “C’mon Egidijus!” from a miked up Simmons. Mockevicius did grab at least two rebounds on the defensive end — official stats weren’t tallied — during the scrimmage.

—Ryan didn’t receive an incredible amount of touches. When he did, he quickly created shots for himself or others.

—Cox, now a senior, handled the point well and seems a candidate to become a regular starter this season. He was also the only player to score more than once in the scrimmage, which ended in an 8-8 tie.

Quotable from UE’s Hoopfest

Some of the best from Thursday’s Hoopfest at the Ford Center:

Men’s coach Marty Simmons on what’s going through his mind while he coaches with a microphone on: “Be careful.”

And did women’s coach Oties Epps hold back a bit while miked up? “Yeah, honestly I did,” he said, laughing.

While on the mic, Simmons joked with a referee about his positioning on the court: “He was my 7th grade basketball coach back home, and he’s my insurance guy. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around — terrific guy.”

More from Simmons on Hoopfest: “This is a pretty good group we have. They understand how important our fans are and the tradition of Evansville. We wouldn’t have the opportunities we have if not for the fans, and I’m very proud in their ability to show their appreciation.”

More from Epps on Hoopfest: “This is extremely important. It gives us a chance to connect our program with the community. During the course of our season, people might not be able to come in and do that, so at least once a season they’re able to come out, meet the players and get autographs.”

Senior guard Ned Cox: “I think it’s big — things like this getting to interact with the fans. They get to see us as more than just basketball players. They see us as people.”

UE News and Notes for Sept. 26, 2012

Follow Derrick Docket of the MVC on Twitter (@ddocket) for more insider photos like this one of Marty Simmons from today.

—In lieu of a Missouri Valley Conference basketball media day this year (it will be done by teleconference for the first time), league officials have been visiting all the member schools to film promos for the upcoming season. They stopped in Evansville on Wednesday with a group that included Derrick Docket (@ddocket). He’s a good follow on Twitter for MVC matters and tweeted the photo to the left.

—Look for a story on backup men’s soccer goalkeeper Robert Randant, one of two seniors on the team this year, and a swimming and diving season preview in tomorrow’s paper. UE’s swimming programs really don’t receive enough funding to compete at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference (women) and Mid-American Conference (men) leagues each year, but both teams excel in the classroom.

—Speaking of academics, UE will host its student-athlete academic honors breakfast on Thursday morning. Expect some fairly big news out of that.

—Trevor Andershock of the Indiana Basketball Source tweeted last night that Fishers guard Jaylon Brown had an in-home visit with UE today. The website rates Brown, a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, as the top uncommited in-state recruit for the class for 2013. Brown recently announced a top five that includes UE, Miami (Ohio), Ohio, St. Bonaventure and Wichita State.

—This column pre-dates the blog, but I thought I’d share because it still applies (and it will for the next month). From the C&P’s Dan Korb: Dial back the emotions and learn to embrace the UE-USI basketball exhibition.

—Andrew Durre of MVCFans.com put together a two-part piece on realignment and the Missouri Valley. You can check out part one here and part two here.

—Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson (@CoachBHinson) joined Twitter this week. And if you didn’t know already, UE coach Marty Simmons (@AceCoachSimmons) is also tweeting now.

—The Ford Center Facebook page published photos today of the ice rink for the upcoming Evansville IceMen season. Training camp for the building’s other main tenant starts Monday.

Cesnulevicius cleared as Aces earn clean bill of health

Rokas Cesnulevicius

University of Evansville men’s basketball coach Marty Simmons said Tuesday that Rokas Cesnulevicius has been cleared to participate fully in workouts following a June all-terrain vehicle crash.

“He’s not restricted at all,” Simmons said of the sophomore forward, who broke his jaw in the ATV accident and required surgery.

Cesnulevicius’ clearance marks a clean bill of health for the Aces, something Simmons’ team hasn’t experienced since before sophomore forward Jordan Jahr broke his foot at the beginning of last season.

Jahr redshirted, broke the foot again this summer and has resumed practicing. Sophomore forward Jaylon Moore is also back to work after suffering a sprained ankle in the ATV crash with Cesnulevicius.

In addition to full health, Simmons has a full roster heading into the 2012-2013 season. Coaches filled their 13th and final scholarship when Lithuanian big man Egidijus Mockevicius signed in August, and Evansville will have three walk-ons.

“We really would like to be able to do that each and every year, but circumstances have dictated otherwise,” Simmons said. “This will be one of the larger groups we’ve had in our six years here. I think that’s a really good thing to be able to do different things practice-wise with splitting up guys that we haven’t had the luxury to do in the past.”

Division I men’s basketball programs start official practices on Oct. 12. In the meantime, the Aces can stage limited full-squad basketball activity along with open gym sessions where coaches aren’t present.

Simmons said he’s seen “a lot of energy – lot of effort” early in the team workouts.

“But we’ve got a long way to go from an execution standpoint,” he said. “I like our effort and intensity, but we’ve looked sloppy. Those are some of the things you deal with when you go from open gyms or pickup games to a more structured and disciplined environment, but that’s why we practice.”

Evansville plays its first exhibition Oct. 27 against the University of Southern Indiana and starts the regular season Nov. 10 at Notre Dame.