Been there, done that? Not so much for Preston Spradlin. At least not quite in the same way.
Oh, sure, the first-year Morehead State head basketball coach has been through preseason camps aplenty. It will be his ninth, in fact, on the Division I level.
But come Saturday, Spradlin will enjoy an experience he's never gone through - opening preseason camp as the head coach. The 2017-18 Eagles hold their first official full team practice Saturday as Spradlin and his nearly-new coaching staff direct a 14-man roster punctuated with much youth and many new faces.
"Last year it was kind of picking up the pieces and running with them," he says of inheriting the interim head coaching mantle nine games into the 2016-17 schedule. "This will be a little bit different, starting off on day one as the head coach. We have been working to plan out where we want to be come November, what we want to be good at, picking our battles. We have taken that and structured our practice schedule for the next six weeks."
Don't underestimate Spradlin, however. He's really not a rookie at this head coaching gig. Four games into last year's slate he was bumped to acting head coach, and on Dec. 15 he was named interim head coach. Following a bit of a rough first act, Spradlin and his squad turned things around, going 12-9 over the final two months. The Eagles finished the season 14-16 overall, including an impressive 10-6 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play for second place in the standings. His colleagues around the league recognized the job he had done, as he finished second in voting for OVC Coach of the Year.
But that was last year's team. This season present a whole new set of challenges, most glaring being the youth on his 14-man roster. The team doesn't have a single senior in uniform, with six freshmen, five sophomores and three juniors ready for action. Of those, just two have seen much action and the entire roster owns a combined one Division I start.
"That really dictates our schedule, and we will add new things when we see them," Spradlin said. "My job is gauging where my team is right now. We've had about six minutes of five-on-five and we have 10 newcomers."
It's a task for which Spradlin feels well-prepared.
"When you're in this business, as an assistant or any other role, you always have the goal to become head coach," he said. "You're learning constantly. You're taking pieces of things you'd like to do, looking for ways to improve on them. I've had two really good bosses in Coach Cal (John Calipari at Kentucky) and Sean Woods (at Morehead State). That's two really good guys and good coaches, and I've learned a lot from them. Now I apply a lot of what I learned and add my own personal philosophies on how we want things done.
"The most important thing is having a handle on what we have and to be diligent in making adjustments that fit our personnel," he said. "We'll keep adding things, and we need to be diligent in our teaching."
Junior forward Lamontray Harris is one of the two returnees who saw much action a year ago, averaging around 19 minutes while playing in all 30 games. The 6-foot-7 Louisville product averaged 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
The other player with experience is 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Jordan Walker, a product of Indianapolis. He also played in all 30 games, coming off the bench to provide 7.0 point and 1.8 rebounds per contest, while leading the team with a deadeye 49.4 percent from long range.
In addition to that pair, the lone returnees are sophomores Djimon Henson and Alonzo Chatman. Henson played in 22 games, averaging eight minutes for contest, while Chatman stepped onto the court in five contests.
"We're just going to have to figure it out," Spradlin says about reconstructing a team with so few building blocks. "I really like our pieces. Minus the inexperience, we have solid talent. I like that we're competitive, we have great focus and great attitude. We can control those things. We can't control the experience portion, but we can control those others."
That control was one of the primary ingredients in the staff's search for new players.
"We wanted to get good balance into our classes," he says. "We wanted to make sure to not just recruit on athleticism. Not pure talent and numbers. We wanted to dive in and look at the character pieces of our kids. Harris and Walker give us a great foundation, so as we built we found new pieces that would all fit together."
Fans can expect the makeup of the next edition of the Eagles to show discipline among its top assets.
"This team will be personnel driven. We want to be a very disciplined team," Spradlin says. We have a great opportunity, with our length and athleticism, to be a fast-paced team. We want to fast break and make easy opportunities, and the only way to do that is by being a very good defensive team. By getting after it, defensively. To limit our fouls, and to show great discipline.
"When we get opportunity, we're going to play fast," he adds. "We will be inside-out, similar to last year. We won't be crazy complicated. We should be easy to scout, but hard to guard. We have to get our kids to play hard and be good at details."
Despite so much youth and inexperience, Spradlin doesn't expect leadership to be a concern.
"Leadership can come from all over the place," he says. "We're developing it. We have a lot of guys who want to be the leaders. My job is to identify them, and help them do it. It will come from Harris and Walker, having been here."
Another potential leader is junior college All-American Adrian Hicks, a high-scoring guard from Columbia (Tenn.) State Community College.
"He does a great job of listening and executing details, and he's shown great signs of leadership," Spradlin says.
With the first practice on Saturday, Spradlin and his squad are keeping their focus on the immediate obstacles.
"We've just been trying to build up a mindset with our guys that we're not worried about November when we open the season," he says. "We've been preparing to get ready for September 30. We want to be ready mentally, physically, and fundamentally. We want to be ready to break into small groups, compete five-on-five, and prepare to compete among each other now and not for the games. We'll see how we do with that."