NEW ORLEANS — It may feel like a new philosophy, but it’s just an adjustment in approach.
The focus of preseason practice for Tulane’s basketball team changed from installation to execution this season. In its third season under coach Ed Conroy, the program’s growth and roster development has evolved from simply learning Conroy’s offensive and defensive systems, to perfecting them.
“It is a bit different than it’s been here,” Conroy said. “Practices are more competitive and we are able to focus more on getting better and fine-tuning things as opposed to installing things.”
The pivot is thanks to Tulane returning all five starters and nine of its top 10 scoring contributors from last season. When all five of those starters were healthy, Tulane jumped out to a 12-2 start in the non-conference portion of the season, but limped to a 15-16 finish after a rash of health problems.
Now, with a healed roster and loads of experience at nearly every position for the first time in his Tulane tenure, expectations around Conroy are high as he hopes to lead the Green Wave to its first postseason appearance since the 2000 NIT.
The path to get there begins Friday in Atlanta, when the Green Wave open its season at 6 p.m. against Georgia Tech in the Yellow Jackets’ newly-completed home, McCamish Paviliion.
In his previous two seasons, Conroy’s preseason practices were greeted with a variety of unknowns, first as a new coach in 2010, then an overhauled roster in 2011. Now, he’s traded in the unfamiliar past for known quantities and the results have already begun to show up.
“We have made huge strides,” Conroy said. “We know where to be and that makes us more efficient in everything we do as far as teaching and our use of practice time. Our guys are able to focus better on being a better basketball team because we have so many known pieces in place.
“So, it’s nice, because they’re not worried about who is going to play and where they go when they’re out there on the floor. All of those little things add up and it allows us to just focus on getting to the gym each day and playing our best basketball without nearly as many distractions.”
Senior guard Jordan Callahan said he noticed the difference when practice opened in October, already understanding his team’s strengths and weaknesses before games even began.
“It’s nice to walk in the gym in October and know there are guys we can already count on,” Callahan said. “It’s just one less thing to worry about and we are so comfortable around each other and recognize each other roles, there’s a cohesiveness that can really help us this year.”
Tulane will rely on reigning Conference USA freshman of the year, point guard Ricky Tarrant and former all-Conference USA preseason selection, forward Kendall Timmons who returns after missing 14 games because of Achilles tendon surgery last season. The pair combined for 28.5 points per game as the Green Wave’s top scorers a year ago.
Yet, Tarrant said he prefers to take a larger role as a distributor this season, citing the wealth of returning experience and myriad of dependable scoring options on the floor.
“I think my role can be different than just scoring and it’s already showed up,” Tarrant said. “Our practices have been so much more advanced because we know what to do, and we can teach the freshmen. It gives us so many places to work from as a team and I think I’ll be able to help this team more as a passer than a shooter most of the time.
“Practice has been really competitive and we’ve been really going at each other to show what we have. Now we are just ready to play against somebody else.”