After struggling at home even more than on the road in its first two years of American Athletic Conference play, the Tulane men's basketball team may benefit from a common-sense change under new coach Mike Dunleavy.
He has moved practices to Devlin Fieldhouse from the Hertz Center.
Under former coach Ed Conroy, the Green Wave almost always worked out at their practice facility since its November 2011 debut. The only time the team ventured into Devlin for practice was the day before home games.
Dunleavy has made practicing at Devlin the rule rather than the exception.
“I like practicing where we play our games,” he said after the Wave finished Friday afternoon. “You get to see your home court. To me, as a player, I always liked that, and, as a coach, every time I’ve had a chance to do that, I’ve done it.”
He’s not inflexible. Tulane will practice at the Hertz Center on Saturday because it has extra baskets with its side-by-side courts, and Dunleavy wants his players to attempt up more shots. Normally, though, he sees no benefit in treating the home arena as a negative.
Whether or not it was coincidence, Tulane went 2-16 in home conference play the previous two years, eking out a pair of overtime victories against South Florida (2015) and Memphis (2016). Making that abysmal record even more maddening was the Wave’s respectable 7-11 mark on the road.
Instead of finding their comfort zone at Devlin, the Wave typically clanked shot after shot off the rim in a venue the players were much less familiar with than they could have been.
“I like practicing here,” said junior swingman Cameron Reynolds, who went 18 for 59 (30.5 percent) from the floor in the Wave’s nine conference home games last year. “You get a better feel for the place we are going to play.”
That’s one of many changes Dunleavy has made since arriving at Tulane. Senior Malik Morgan felt the change in venue would be less significant in raising the Wave’s collective shooting than the type of shots he and his teammates would get in Dunleavy’s system.
Too often in the past, possessions ended with players forcing the ball to beat the shot clock. Dunleavy’s emphasis on a faster pace should alleviate that problem.
“We’re going to get a lot more open shots,” Morgan said. “We won’t have as many contested shots as we did last year, and that’s really going to help us make shots. I definitely feel like we’re going to be able to get a nice, clean open look within 10 seconds this year.”
The question is how quickly the players and coaches will adjust to each other. Dunleavy, who has spent his entire coaching career in the NBA, is learning what the Wave can and cannot do in conditioning drills.
“I have to (be flexible) a little bit on my expectations on drill work and speed work,” he said. “The things we’ve done at the pro level, maybe it’s not possible at this level. I’ve had to dial it back a little bit, but I’ve got to find out what the right numbers and times are. The effort has been excellent.”
With just one week of practice under their belt, where every player fits will become more clear in the next month. Dunleavy has three point guards in sophomore Von Julien and freshmen Colin Slater and Ray Ona Embo. He is giving Reynolds some time at power forward because the team is thin in the frontcourt, with senior Ryan Smith, sophomore Blake Paul and sophomore transfer Sammis Reyes having plenty to prove. Morgan, athletic sophomore Melvin Frazier and sophomore Kain Harris fill out the other perimeter and wing spots.
Before the questions get answered on the court, the Wave is working on its mindset.
“We’re developing a new culture for Tulane basketball: a bunch of hard-working guys and guys that don’t play any plays off and guys that stay to get extra work in,” Morgan said. “We’ve definitely been working on chemistry and being able to trust each other.”
If that trust extends to games at Devlin Fieldhouse, all the better. With Morgan, Frazier, Julien and Paul all from the New Orleans area, the home losses were doubly frustrating.
“It’s very important to protect home court,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of local guys now, too, having their families around supporting them. We really should be able to win at home.”