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Early Killen

David Early (23) and Obinna Anochili-Killen (25) saw significant playing time for Marshall as freshmen, and will take on a heavier burden as sophomores.

HUNTINGTON — Mikel Beyers stood slumped over trying to catch his wind on Tuesday.

A few feet away, Obinna Anochili-Killen sat against the basket support.

Meanwhile, Andrew Taylor and Taevion Kinsey walked around with their hands on their heads and sweat dripping from their noses as they collected their breath.

In the moment, those players likely hated offseason conditioning work.

Given the scenario they faced in 2020, however, with COVID-19, they couldn’t be happier.

Marshall basketball players are back on the court getting in conditioning and drill work to prepare for the 2021-22 season.

“It’s just freedom,” Marshall guard Andrew Taylor said. “We were all stuck at home last year just thinking about not being allowed to be in the Cam [Henderson Center] with our guys competing. Now we’ve got that opportunity and I feel like guys are just fiending to be out there on the court — before practice, after practice.”

One player on whom the focus often lands in this offseason work is guard David Early, who will see an increase in minutes this fall with the exit of point guard Jarrod West to Louisville.

Early, who said he’s already lost several pounds from his formerly 240-pound frame, is embracing that opportunity.

“Where Jarrod left, I’ve got a big role to take on,” Early said. “My teammates trust me and I want to show them that I’m ready to work.”

During Tuesday’s session, Early fired through the lane for an offensive rebound among the trees and hit an off-balance leaner off the glass, drawing praise from his teammates and coaches.

Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni spoke to the importance of these sessions for Early and Anochili-Killen, who became key contributors last season as true freshmen despite never having an offseason to prepare.

D’Antoni also said that last year’s difficulties will lead to future success, given what they had to go through.

“The thing is, they are still freshmen,” D’Antoni said. “That’s the good thing. If they will stay freshmen and consider themselves freshmen, then they got a better warm-up than the other guys.

“Did it hurt us last year because they had to play like that? Yes. Is it better in the long run? Maybe. They are going to be better now as freshmen than they were last year as freshmen.”

Marshall standout Kinsey, who returned for 2021-22 after testing the NBA draft waters, said the offseason is a chance for him to work on those things scouts told him he needed to improve his draft stock for next season.

Following Tuesday’s session, Kinsey joined Beyers and Early in getting some extra shots up while fatigued — something they weren’t able to do together at this time last year.

“It definitely adds some excitement coming into the season,” Kinsey said. “We lost a couple key guys, so this summer ball helps us a lot.”

While it is only summer, it has a definite preseason feel to it as D’Antoni meticulously shut down drills to fine-tune things to his liking in each repetition while also imploring his team to use their imagination and creativity within plays.

It is all part of the structured freedom D’Antoni brings with the sport he loves.

“We’re working them hard to get them ready to be as good as they can be,” D’Antoni said. “I love basketball, so anytime I’m in the gym and we are working to get better, I’m happy as hell. I’m hoping COVID slowly goes away so we can get back to the point where, as a community, we can support this program. We have the type of kids that you can support and be proud of.”