Practice is officially underway so I spent a couple hours on Monday watching the men's team in action.
At first glance, you are impressed with the sheer mass. There are 17 players on the roster, 13 scholarshipped players and four walk-ons. 17. At season's end last year we were down to 11 available players: nine on scholarship and two walk-ons.
That, in and of itself, is encouraging. Practice is competitive. One drill included three equal teams of five players. Last year, it would have been tough to come up with two. Looking forward, you hope the increased competitive level of practice will pay dividends in the game.
Second thing that jumps out at you is how fast DiJuan Harris is. Flat out speed up and down the court. On the break, he leaves players in his wake -- and this year, he will not need to save his energy -- so look for him to go all out all the time. It's also easy to see his football background. A talented high school player, DiJuan plays with a gridiron toughness and reckless abandon. He definitely will get knocked down. And he definitely will get back up.
Of course, at early season practices you want to see what the new guys are all about. Derrio Green has some great court sense. Driving and dishing in the lane. He'll have fans doing double takes throughout the season, wondering 'Did he really just do that?'. On defense, he has a nose for the ball and great anticipation. KJ Sherrill looks good in the paint. He has long arms that can block shots, deflect passes, create steals -- and produce powerful dunks. Chris Braswell is strong. He has the body of an upperclassman and he uses it well. Watching a frontcourt that has Spears, Jones, Braswell and Sherrill banging away gives you a sense of the strength the 49ers will have down low. Gokhan Sirin can shoot, but he is not one dimensional -- which will prove valuable this year.
Of course there was so much more. Dewey calmly hit a three-pointer with a second left to tie one 5-on-5 game situation drill. An'Juan battled as he always does on the boards. RaShad continues to look so comfortable getting to the rim.
As expected the action was high, the tempo pushed and defense stressed. It will be fun to get another peek at these guys at Madness (Thursday nite at 9:00) and Fan Day (Saturday at 11:00). And even more fun at the exhibition game, Nov. 5 vs. Johnson C. Smith (7:00 p.m.).