Basketball: Pack to open season against Montana State
How does the Runnin’ Wolf Pack sound?
Already taken? Well, how about Scamperin’ Pack? Scurryin’ Pack? Gallopin’ Pack? Hurryin’ Pack? Speedin’ Pack?
OK, enough with the cute nicknames. But, make no mistake, we’re going to have to figure out a way to describe the 2009-10 Wolf Pack men’s basketball team this season. This Pack team, which opens the regular season Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center against Montana State, is definitely going to pick up the pace.
“We’re real comfortable with our new system,” sophomore forward Luke Babbitt said. “It fits our personnel well, this run-and-gun style.”
The new system comes with new head coach David Carter, a former point guard for the St. Mary’s Gaels in the late 1980s. Carter, a Pack assistant under head coaches Trent Johnson and Mark Fox since 1999, learned how to run an offense while at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
“I really believe this is what we have to do to win,” Babbitt said. “We have to put the pressure on teams, do what we do best. When you look at some other teams, we might be a little undersized. That’s why we have to play to our strengths.”
The Pack’s strength, especially with Babbitt, guards Armon Johnson and Joey Shaw and cat-like quick forwards Dario Hunt and Joey Shaw, is to try to run teams out of the gym.
“We’re going to push the ball,” Babbitt said.
Carter, though, warns everyone not to expect the Wolf Pack to turn into coach Paul Westhead’s shot-happy, run-and-gun Loyola Marymount teams of the late 1980s.
“It’s not only about the offense,” Carter said. “It’s also about the defense. When we say up-tempo, we mean both on offense and defense. If the other team is always putting the ball in the basket, it’s hard to run on offense. It all starts with good defense.”
The Wolf Pack, running Fox’s more deliberate style, averaged 70.6 points a game on 57 shots a game. Of those 57 shots, 15.9 were 3-point attempts. The Pack, though, made just 31 percent of its 3-pointers a year ago.
Expect all those numbers to increase this year.
“We’ll shoot more threes,” Carter promised. “The guys have improved their shooting. When you shoot more threes, it follows that you will work on it more in practice so we’ll be better at it.”
The player that figures to benefit the most from Carter’s new style is Johnson, who will be running the offense at the point for the third consecutive season. Johnson, too, warns everyone not to expect drastic changes.
“I think it has all been blown out of proportion a little,” said Johnson, who shot just 28 percent from 3-point range last year and 47 percent from inside the arc. “It really all starts on defense. If you are not going out and getting stops, it’s hard to run on offense.”
Both Johnson and Babbitt will likely be able to showcase more of their skills this year in a more wide open offense, Carter said.
“I think so,” Carter said. “I think this will allow Luke to be out on the perimeter more and be able to show his ball handling skills more. Armon will also have more freedom. It will allow him to have the ball in his hands more.”
Carter, though, stressed the importance of everybody else on the floor taking an active part in the offense. He doesn’t want three guys standing around and watching Babbitt and Johnson score all the points.
“It’s about sharing the ball,” Carter said. “We know that Luke and Armon will demand a lot of attention from other teams. That’s why we need everyone else to have defined roles. Other guys have to step up for this to work.”