Boy, was it nice to be back at the Hammermill to see live basketball on Thursday! Despite watching the Knights -- sans sophomore Stephen Battle (death in the family) and senior Shameel Carty (injury) -- for two 10-minute periods, I still don't know how good they are. In intrasquad scrimmages, especially with so many new players, everything is relative. I thought Bubby Johnson scored better in the post than I expected, but maybe that's because Gannon's post defenders aren't that strong. We'll learn after a few regular season games how good this team is.
Notice that I said "how good." I believe this team will be good. Specifically, here's what I liked from the scrimmage:
* I didn't see any stiffs on the GU roster. Everyone is an athlete, with the only skinny guys being Tanner Furno and Alvin Tucker. Time will tell if these athletes are also basketball players, but the Knights won't be lacking in speed, quickness, strength, and scrappiness.
* Tying in with the athleticism, I liked that the Knights were extending their defense more than in years past (when they weren't as athletic). A couple sources have told me that with Gannon's combination of athleticism and depth, John Reilly plans to implement a full-court press instead of just the stifling halfcourt man defense we're accustomed to. Instead of just protecting the lane, Gannon could try to force some more turnovers in the backcourt. Because of that, Reilly could rotate most if not all of the 12 active roster members during games.
* Who is the best dunker in Gannon history? I ask that because in the pregame warmups Darrell Blanton threw down some big-time jams. My favorite GU dunkers were Mitchell Smith, John "Shanghai" Matthews, Derrick Price, and Shannon Grant. You might not remember Grant, but I played with him one year at Gannon, and he could really fly.
* The offensive abilities of Johnson and Dmitry Martynenko in the post give me hope that Gannon's offense will be much improved this year. If they can score one-on-one on the block like we saw Thursday, then opponents will have to double-down. That will result in more open three-point attempts for the Knights and a less painful halfcourt offense compared with previous seasons.
* I really liked Johnson's overall game. Here are the notes I took on him during the scrimmage: "Finishes with either hand, has post-up ability -- not too skinny, makes his free throws, cuts off drives, can wall-up on defense, super enthusiasm." Oh, and he's 6-foot-9.
* Best quote from a Gannon fan: "There are more people here than you get at a Mercyhurst game." The Maroon/Gold scrimmage drew about 300 fans. Thought I don't know if we can call it the "Maroon/Gold game" this year because neither team wore maroon or gold, as this photo gallery shows.
My biggest concern about Gannon ties in with my compliment earlier about their athleticism. With everyone being such a good athlete, it appears they don't have a go-to pure shooter and they don't seem to set many good screens. My second biggest concern is lack of depth at point guard. Veteran PG Steve Piotrowicz is still hobbled by a hip injury and Adam Blazek is a freshman PG.
If you want to see some video highlights of the scrimmage, including an interview with Reilly, just click here.