October 15, 2006
Valdosta -- The circle around October 15th on the calendar is very special to Division II basketball coaches.
Thats's the date coaches and players can first hold a team practice, and get back to running a weave drills rather than just running laps.
The Valdosta State men's team start with high hopes, as they return three starters from last years squad, including leading scorer Mike Crain and top-assist man Herman Burge.
The two seniors have been named co-captains.
Crain led the Blazers in scoring last year at over twenty-points per game, and VSU advanced to the second round of the conference tournament.
Blazers head coach Mike Helfer says his team will be working hard in the preseason, because once the regular schedule kicks in the season just flies by.
"We only have about 4 1/2 weeks until the opener," says Helfer, "and then you start playing games one every four days in basketball, which is different than football. It just goes so fast. We're excited though, we're looking forward to it."
Now that practice is under way Helfer says his players sometimes feel like it's an eternity before they're able to finally play a game, but the coach always advises his team to stop and smell the roses.
"They realize how fast it goes," says Helfer. "I try and tell our guys all the time about enjoying the moment. Even though it's hard. This is Mike Crain's last go-around in conditioning. It has some sentimental value to it. I'm not sure you always see that as a player. As a coach you do, but as a player I'm not sure you always do."
The Blazers open up at home against Carver in exactly one month.
The Lady Blazers will have a very young team this year, with no seniors.
But they do bring back five letter winners, including two starters from a squad that won eighteen games last year.
Valdosta State will have seven new players on this years team, with four freshmen and three transfers.
Lady Blazers head coach Kiley Hill says today is always one of his favorite holiday's of the year.
"For most people the 15th is just another day," says Hill, "but for me and coaches around the country it's like Christmas day. We're excited about it. Our kids are ready to finally play as a team. We're tired of just playing 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and all of our individual work."
The Lady Blazers lose their top-two scorers from last year. Five-foot-five guard Janelle Collazo is the teams top returning scorer at about eight-points per game.
Coach Hill says he'll be relying on the returning juniors like Collazo to help lead the incoming recruits this season.
"We're going to hold a lot of those kids accountable for bringing those younger kids along teaching-wise, along with our coaching staff," says Hill. "There's a big, big chunk of our success that's going to rely on those five, but we're not going to put the whole thing on their shoulders."
The Lady Blazers open up November 17th at a tournament in Fort Lauderdale.