Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett are both returning players coming off fantastic rookie campaigns. The now-experienced duo will be asked for an louder encore during their sophomore year as the Red Storm look to move up the standings.
Because of the team’s perimeter talent, the Red Storm will happily play small and take advantage of their talent to try to outscore opponents on their way to improving the seven league wins from last season. But...
“I love playing small,” Mullin said, “but when you play small you have to rebound and play defense.”
Ponds’s league-leading steal numbers notwithstanding, the defense needs to improve, and the key to that improvement are the two star guards.
Mullin has emphasized that the two need to do a better job of improving the defense at the point of attack and make sure to do a better job of moving the ball, instead of seeking their own shots.
LoVett understands what the coach is getting at.
“I think we can be hungrier defensively; we need to get as many steals as we can,” said LoVett on the kind of pressure him and Ponds can impose on backcourts. “And [we can get better by] just know[ing] when to score and when to pass. I feel like if we know how to do that and balance it out, we’ll be much better.”
Overall, the coach feels Shamorie Ponds may have taken the biggest leap over the summer and more will be expected of him.
“He’s gotten stronger physically,” said coach Mullin. “His pace has picked up. The basketball part for him is pretty natural; he’s got a great feel for the game and great instincts. He’s a gym rat. His increase in strength and his understanding [of how] to do more has been important.”
Playing pickup games with the likes of Carmelo Anthony this summer had to help with the confidence and instincts for the Brooklyn sophomore.
LoVett, meanwhile, has also been working on shoring up his game - while going with a slicker, no facial hair look. The competition on the floor has helped.
“All the guards are getting better just by us going at each other,” LoVett said. “It’s a lot of weight off; I can be able to play-make and find others to score. That’s the way I love to play and I have full trust in my teammates.”
Confidence is high among the staff and team. Ponds proclaimed during the offseason that this year would be “NCAA tournament or bust,” and the team has truly rallied around that.
Mullin has had two years to gather experience and talent.
But taking that next step to improve from last year will not be an easy task.