HUNTINGTON — No Jon Elmore. No C.J. Burks. No Rondale Watson.
What does that equal? No question as to what is first and foremost in the mind of Marshall basketball coach Dan D’Antoni and the Thundering Herd players as practice started this week.
Marshall has to use its preseason to establish its identity, whether it is solidifying the team’s leadership or building chemistry with several new pieces on the floor.
“These next 15 practices are going to decide what this season or team is going to look like and how we’re going to do this season,” Marshall junior forward Jannson Williams said. “Everybody on this team loves each other. We hang out with each other and joke with each other all the time, and this team jells really well.”
The trio of Elmore, Burks and Watson accounted for nearly 47 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists a game, which would be hard for any team to replace.
However, D’Antoni said their leadership is what will be missed the most, which is why he spoke to returning players individually prior to the season about stepping up into that role.
Also, D’Antoni said part of what made those departed seniors so successful was the trust and confidence they had in themselves and each other, which is what Marshall seeks to build prior to the start of exhibition play.
“We’re going to score and we’re going to be in the 80s,” D’Antoni said. “Points are easy to replace. Can we do it at the big times? That’ll be the question. Can we get that big play? It all comes down to that.”
Williams and junior guard Jarrod West each return as Marshall’s most experienced players and will assume a greater role in terms of leadership. D’Antoni said he’s also eager to see what newcomers Andrew Taylor and Marko Sarenac add in leadership and playmaking at the point position.
“As they mature, the team will mature with them,” D’Antoni said.
Sophomore Taevion Kinsey emerged late in his freshman year and was one of the Herd’s most explosive threats down the stretch of the CollegeInsider.com tournament championship run, which boosted him into this season as well.
“It definitely was fun and gave me a lot of confidence going into the offseason,” Kinsey said. “I was like, ‘We just did this. If I go into the offseason and get better, coming off what I just came off of, then the sky is the limit.’ It was definitely, definitely big.”
Kinsey said every player is meshing into his role as workouts and pickup games have evolved into full team practices. The talk with D’Antoni also helped to get his mind right in preparation for the season.
“We have guys who have stepped into a leadership role — three-year guys with Jarrod and Jannson,” Kinsey said. “We’ve got some older guys to still run the table here, but [D’Antoni] just told me to stay level-headed and, production-wise, get in the gym and make sure I up my game. That’s what I did.”
The sense is that there is a bit of a chip on the shoulder of the 2019-20 team to prove that while Elmore and Burks will be missed, it isn’t the end of the success for Marshall basketball. With more size in the mix for this season, Williams is excited to see what unfolds.
“This team is so versatile, so young and so new,” Williams said. “And athletic. That’s probably the biggest way I could describe this team to you guys — athletic. This team is going to be something that Huntington has never seen before.”