Midsummer in Moscow – and already, hoops watchers have a chance to see the Vandals back in action.
Most of the 2009-10 Idaho Vandals men’s basketball squad have arrived on campus for summer workouts, and in the heat of the afternoon, Mem Gym echoes with the sound of leather on hardwood and the shouts of determined young ballplayers. Official practices are some ways off, but open gym is just that, and the Vandals are making good use of the time. From a perch in the balcony, the tension is already palpable.
It’s early in the game, but first appearances are promising.
One question that had nagged Vandal-watchers was the role of senior point guard Steffan Johnson. With senior Mac Hopson showing star qualities in that role last year, where would Johnson fit in as he emerged from his transfer-redshirt season? Would a chemistry-damaging rivalry undermine the strong unity of 2008-09′s tight-knit team? Would there be a battle for playing time or split starts?
But seeing the two on court together, it’s clear that Coach Don Verlin had a plan for Johnson all along, and that the redshirt year has been well-used. Hopson and Johnson are working as a well-oiled and dynamic guard team, setting each other up and dishing off like they’ve been playing together for years. Johnson is a fearless competitor, juking and driving hard to the hoop, while showing the ability to knock down long jumpers seemingly at will. Mac’s 3-point game looks even better than before, too.
Jeff Ledbetter, a junior transfer guard from Irvine Valley College, looks to slot in alongside Luciano de Souza as a second 3-point specialist. De Souza and Luiz Toledo are both absent, playing in the World University Games.
True freshman Joe Kammerer, a 6-9 forward/center out of Eugene, Ore., could see solid playing time off the bench this year, as he brings much-needed depth to the post position. In man-to-man play, he matched up fairly well with Marvin Jefferson — though he was clearly out-muscled by the veteran big man. He would seem, at first glance, to be a redshirt candidate, but Joe told Vandal Nation that he’ll be playing this fall, and the newcomer is working overtime on strength conditioning. We’ll have a complete interview with Joe later in the month.
The presence of Marcus Lawrence, a mercurial junior guard who earlier left UNLV under something of a cloud, dispelled any rumors that he’d left the program — though we’ve been unable to confirm his scholarship status.
Returning starters Brandon Wiley and Kashif Watson have also been playing hard, and perhaps even harder now that the competition on their own team is getting tougher. It’ll be interesting to watch their progression this summer, with the Vandals’ starting five still probably in flux.
In a smart move that gives both squads more experience, several WSU Cougar players participated in the scrimmaging as well.
Kyle Barone, Shawn Henderson and Travis Blackstock were also out on court. I’m not sure if Landon Tatum and Corey Stern were there, but we’ll follow up on the loose ends as the summer workouts progress.