Danny Manning's first TU basketball team heavily reliant on freshmen
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2012
10/25/12 at 5:20 AM
The question was asked during the University of Tulsa's media event on Wednesday.
Can the Golden Hurricane compete in Conference USA with so many 18- and 19-year-old freshmen?
Rashad Ray's response: "Actually, I'm 17. I'll be 18 next week."
There are 13 players on coach Danny Manning's first Golden Hurricane roster, and six are first-year freshmen - guards Ray, Shaq Harrison, James Woodard and Nick Wood, along with forwards D'Andre Wright and Zeldric King.
On Saturday, when Emporia State visits for a 3:05 p.m. exhibition at the Reynolds Center, the TU freshmen get their first college basketball experience. Soon, the Hurricane plays at Wichita State, at Creighton, at Oral Roberts and against Florida State in Ft. Lauderdale. The grind of the Conference USA schedule starts in January.
Do the Tulsa freshmen really know what they're getting into?
"No, not at all," Manning replied. "We're going to go through ups and downs with our freshmen, and that's to be expected. We're going to play (road games) where it's a packed house. They'll have some growing pains."
Because Tulsa has only one legitimately proven scorer (senior Scottie Haralson) and only one experienced point guard (junior Tim Peete), most media members who cover Conference USA are picking the Hurricane to finish closer to last place than to first in the 12-team league.
"That's because they don't know a thing about us," Ray said.
Harrison's opinion: "I think we're definitely underestimated because of all the new guys."
"We don't have a target on our back," Harrison added. "We're expected to be in the lower tier (of the conference). We can get those wins when people aren't expecting it."
With Manning so reliant on freshmen and most inexperienced returning players, what is the reasonable expectation?
"We're just going to play hard each and every game," Manning said. "But as far as putting a win total on it - I can't do that. This is all new for me. I haven't gone through Conference USA. I don't know the coaching philosophies or the players in this conference. I haven't seen them up close and personal. That's a very tough assessment from me."
What Manning does promise is a faster style of play than TU fans have seen in recent seasons. Peete shares the point-guard assignment with the 6-foot-3 Harrison and the 5-11 Ray.
"Tim is the bigger, stronger point guard. He's able to play multiple spots defensively," Manning said. "Shaq is long and super athletic. He'll surprise people with some of the plays he's able to make. Rashad Ray is just a little jitterbug that gets out there and pushes the ball offensively. Defensively, he heats up the ball and tries to pressure the handler.
"System-wise, they all know what is expected of them. You'll see the three of them out on the court together at times. That will create a very fast tempo. Whoever gets the rebound is going to (pass) to one of those three, and we're off."
Haralson has a total of 61 starts in a Tulsa uniform. Peete has 10. No one else has any. Among the freshmen, Woodard - a Tulsa World All-State selection last season at Edmond Memorial - might be the best 3-point shooter.
"I think he has a chance to be pretty good in this league throughout his career," Haralson said of Woodard.
Occasionally, a freshman is immediately comfortable and productive in games. For TU to be competitive in 2012-13, Manning needs consistency from his rookies.
"At times, a bunch of them are gamers. At other times, they're not gamers. That's kind of the way of the freshman," Manning said. "But hopefully by the start of conference play, they'll be comfortable within their role."
Manning goes to battle with a team that includes eight newcomers. Asked whether there is a chance that Tulsa can emerge as an interesting and competitive presence in Conference USA, he replied, "I hope so. For us, you have to use that as motivation. Where people have us ranked - it is what it is. That doesn't mean we have to accept it."
Original Print Headline: Growing pains await Hurricane
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
TU men's basketball head coach Danny Manning (center) stands with his freshman players Zeldric King (left), Shaquille Harrison, Rashad Ray, Nick Wood, James Woodard and D'Andre Wright on Wednesday during TU's media day. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World