VMI basketball finds a way

vmi_logoFall at the “I” is most often thought of as a time for Ratline indoctrination, Friday Parades, and Big Red football. But another VMI team is quietly putting in work a mere stone’s throw from Foster Stadium. Fresh off a 2nd-place finish in the Big South’s North Division and an appearance in the conference tournament semifinals, this year’s basketball team kicked their preseason training regiment into high gear with “Operation Find A Way”. The grueling eight session conditioning combine, which wrapped up September 24, allowed Head Coach Duggar Baucom an opportunity to gauge the intestinal fortitude of his latest group of charges – a group without the services of ’13 Big South Player of the Year Stan Okoye.

A combination of individual and group exercises that required leaders to step forward and group decisions be made quickly, the ‘operation’ contained eight phases that were unique unto themselves. The initial session saw the players endure a 12 cardio stations gauntlet including things like medicine ball backboard touches, wall sits, and planks. 35 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Players didn’t put out, the entire team repeated the evolution. Day 7, on the other hand, tasked the weary bunch to form three groups – each with a player from North Carolina, a Rat, and a player whose jersey number landed somewhere in the 20s – in 10 seconds or less before racing each other in timed sprints of various distances.

“We’re confident in our First Classmen on the court, but ‘Operation Find A Way’ couldn’t have been completed without their willingness to communicate in a non-basketball setting. When our Rats see guys like DJ, Rodney, and Drew digging deep and helping their teammates fight through adversity, it plants the seed of leadership that’ll eventually grow inside of them,” Baucom explained. The all-time winningest coach in VMI basketball history, entering his ninth season at the helm, continued, “You’re not going to replace a Stan Okoye with one guy, we know that. Hopefully we’ll be even more tight-knit as a group this year and more guys will feel comfortable to expand their roles. That’s what stuff like [Operation Find-A-Way] is all about.”

Two central characters in this season’s plot will be DJ Covington and Rodney Glasgow, First Classmen roommates and both returning starters. Virginia Beach native Covington, the reigning Big South Defensive Player of the Year, described the ‘mission’ as more of a wake-up call than anything. “We knew coming into it that the coaches weren’t playing around with conditioning. One of our goals as a team is to play faster than we did last year. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all faster after ‘Operation Find-A-Way’,” the monstrous post player opined.

Glasgow, a diminutive point guard with ample playing experience and the cool demeanor befitting most college floor generals, posited more of a big picture outlook on the hellish program. “I broke my hand in one of the early sessions but there was no way I was staying out. Leaving my brothers behind isn’t in my vocabulary. That’s what Coach B. wants from all of us, to embrace being a part of something bigger than ourselves.” The Maryland product mentioned Drew Absher, a Brother Rat of his, as a master motivator for the team’s six Rats throughout exercise.

Son of a longtime high school coach, Absher has commanded respect from teammates for his leadership behind the scenes since first donning a Keydets uniform four years ago. “I love the X’s and O’s part of the game and have always tried to help other guys with the playbook and stuff like that. This year I want to be out front in sprints and set a new bar for the younger guys with conditioning.” Averaging a shade over 78 points a game a year ago (which topped the Big South by a wide margin), this year’s team wants to lead the country in scoring. “We’ve got to find a way to play through fatigue, to hit crucial shots when our legs are gone, to make things happen when it matters most. It starts right here. This was a great bonding experience for our team. “

Absher summed up the team’s sentiment by politely exclaiming, “I never want to do anything like that again.” As VMI cadets are wont to do in times of distress, Jordan Weethee reverted to sarcasm by wryly interjecting, “It was easy.” The showering of friendly punches from his lingering teammates made it obvious that nobody wanted the coaching staff to catch wind of the joke.

The team takes to the court for the first time this season vs. The Citadel on Friday, November 8 at 3:30 p.m. in Cameron Hall. The game will televised nationally on ESPNU.

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