Taking in Media Day with the Austin Toros
The Austin Toros play basketball. You’re familiar with basketball, right? Round, orange ball; hoop with a net; backboard; making it through the hoop is worth two points; if you shoot it beyond a line about 23 feet, nine inches away from the hoop it’s worth three points. It’s a really fun game to watch.
Next Saturday afternoon in Frisco, Texas, the Toros will begin their season without courtroom incident or bargaining impasse. The Toros finished 22-28 last season and missed out on the playoffs, but return five players to this year’s training camp roster.
Tuesday afternoon, I ventured up to Cedar Park for Toros Media Day and an open scrimmage at the Cedar Park Recreation Center.
In addition to time for folks like myself to get a few minutes for interviews with various team peoples, the players recorded things like jumbotron videos and local PSAs. They also got to visit with Santa Claus.
After hanging out with Santa, I talked with Toros Head Coach Brad Jones for a few minutes about a variety of things, including, of course, this year’s Toros team. Jones is entering his second year as the Toros head coach after leaving the Utah Jazz’s D-League team, the Utah Flash. The Flash closed up shop this summer.
“Obviously both of them [the Jazz and Spurs organizations] are terrific and wonderful organizations. The culture that both of them established is elite in the NBA,” Coach Jones said. “The farther and the deeper I get into working with [the Spurs], the more respect I gain for them just in the way they handle things, the way they approach things, the way they do things, the infrastructure they set up. It’s just, in my opinion, second to none.”
Though Coach Jones has only been able to evaluate his team since Saturday, the shooting ability of the guys he has in camp has impressed him. Between players like Luke Zeller, Justin Dentmon and Leo Lyons, Jones thinks this year’s team will be a much better shooting team than last season’s, which shot 34% from the 3-point line.
What Coach Jones seemed most excited about was the number, and quality, of returning players he has at his disposal this season.
“One of the things we struggled with last year was we never really could — until later in the season when it was too late — get a core of guys we felt like we were comfortable with. I think we had 23 different players put on a Toros jersey last year,” he said. “We have five guys who played in this league last year. Not only played, but were good in this league.
“So we feel like that’s a really good core to start with as we try to build our roster out with the remaining five guys.”
After Media Day, I wandered over to the gym to take in the Toros’ open scrimmage.
While players were getting warmed up, I ended chatting with Toros draft pick Dan Vandervieren for a few minutes while he put his ankle braces and sneakers on. Among the many topics we covered, we discussed the number of schools named Concordia (he’s from Concordia in St. Paul, Minnesota), the lockout and fishing. Lots of talk about fishing.
I then wandered over to a sign I saw on the wall. One that was begging to have a picture taken of it.
I turned around and Toros fixture Squeaky Johnson was watching me as he shot jumpers.
“Does anyone really abide by this?” I asked, pointing to the sign.
“Haha, nope,” Squeaky said.
Sure enough, on the first play of the scrimmage, Lance Thomas went off a back screen and caught a reverse alley-oop.
Eventually I found a place behind the black team’s bench to take in the evening’s scrimmage.
Coach Jones left the head coaching duties to his two assistants, Taylor Jenkins leading the white team and Alex Lloyd directing the black team. This gave Brad Jones a chance to watch his training camp players from a distance see who’s picking up the system quickly and who is still having trouble after just a handful of days. The Toros training camp roster is at 17 players right now and must be pared down to 10 by November 23 (thanks for the clarification Scott Schroeder).
Here are some observations from Tuesday’s scrimmage:
- Before splitting off into teams and going 5-on-5, players ran through some plays without defense. It’s clear they have only been at it a couple of days. There was plenty of confusion on certain plays who was supposed to go where and when. But with the limited time available so far, I would expect nothing less.
- If I had to place a wager, I’d say Justin Dentmon is in line to make the final roster and be the team’s starting point guard, with Squeaky Johnson likely his backup. Dentmon (6’0″ out of Washington) has good control and a solid hesitation dribble drive, although he seems to carry the ball anytime he changes direction. Dentmon also forced a few passes, but that could come from a limited knowledge of the system thus far. Coach Jones told me beforehand that Dentmon shot 43% from 3-point last year in the D-League for the Texas Legends.
- I still love Lance Thomas’ game. It’s really not healthy. Everything he does on the floor looks like gold to me, except for shooting jumpers, I guess, but I won’t hold that against him. I really wish Thomas was two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier so I could watch him in the NBA next season. Listed at 6’8″ and 225 lbs, Thomas is a big man in a wing’s body. The epitome of a tweener and unfortunately, I don’t see him developing the perimeter skills to become a wing in the NBA. He’s had four years in college and one in the D-League to change his game and I don’t think enough has happened. It’s a damn shame too, because he’s awesome.
- The Toros mascot, Da Bull, and the dance team were both at the scrimmage working on their routines. It must be said that there was no PA system blaring music. They were just dancing in silence off to the side. It was really very funny.
- Coach Jones was right, this team can shoot. There were a plethora of 3′s and long 2′s nailed in the first half. Shots weren’t falling as consistently in the second half, though I’d chalk that up to tired legs.
- The black team (led by Lance Thomas!) beat the white team handily, 66-44 (I think). I couldn’t tell you who scored what, as there weren’t any stats kept and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it.
And now, for sitting with me through all of that, I present to you some real basketball: