HUNTINGTON — Marshall basketball head coach Dan D’Antoni knew what to expect with a solid nucleus of returnees for the 2021-22 season.
However, D’Antoni wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with the learning curve of a solid freshman class that featured several players who could all quickly step into roles.
What D’Antoni has noticed is that those freshmen are playing well, so much so that they are pushing the veterans in practice.
In the frontcourt, forwards Chase McKey and Aymeric Toussaint, both 6-foot-9, have especially been busy taking on the Thundering Herd’s veterans, which has resulted in a lot of eyes opening.
In Wednesday’s practice, Toussaint — also known as “A.T.” — had to guard another A.T., Marshall guard Andrew Taylor, on a switch.
Taylor is one of the better shot-creators in Conference USA, but Toussaint was able to use his length and athleticism to stay in front of Taylor and force an errant shot.
The play did not go unnoticed.
As soon as the drill was over, Marshall veteran Taevion Kinsey took Toussaint to the side for encouragement.
“He’s one of the best you’ll face,” Kinsey said as he congratulated his young teammate. “If you can guard him, you can guard anyone. You won’t face better.”
McKey has shown the ability to create for himself with an aggressive nature and a high basketball IQ for knowing where guards are driving and getting to the open spot that is not common among freshmen.
The result has been several plays in which McKey has slashed to the basket for a guard to find him for an easy finish.
It all brings a smile to the face of D’Antoni.
“I like our young guys a lot,” D’Antoni said after a recent practice. “With young guys, sometimes you never know, but these guys can really play. They’re getting after it out there.”
D’Antoni said one of the biggest adjustments for the young players is not just the speed of the college game but also catching up in terms of on-court chemistry with the others who have played together in the past.
“Our young kids are learning and trying to find ways to fit in,” D’Antoni said.
Marshall has three other freshmen on the roster for the 2021-22 season. Guard Kyle Braun and forward Wyatt Fricks are on scholarship. Creighton Thieneman, the younger brother of former Herd player Christian Thieneman, is also with the team and can fill it up from the outside.
Braun and Fricks have been limited due to injuries, which has limited their ability to showcase what they are capable of doing.
D’Antoni said he expects to possibly get Braun back this week, which will add another guard into the practice rotation.
Fricks’ injury is expected to take several weeks for recovery and could result in him redshirting this season.
Marshall’s first preseason exhibition is scheduled for Oct. 31 against Davis & Elkins at Cam Henderson Center.