Joe Ragland is envious of the luxury his new teammates enjoy this summer.
Eight new Wichita State basketball players get a head start on the season with 10 practices before exhibition games in Brazil. The Shockers started Saturday, and will practice five times in July before finishing with five more in early August.
Ragland, a junior-college transfer at this time at year ago, had to learn point guard on the job. It took him well into the season's second half before he played up to his potential.
"Five months before the season, and we're already going like it's the season," he said. "The new guys are going to have a lot of time to learn, so they should be pretty caught up with us by the beginning of the season."
WSU returns five of its top six scorers from last season, but several of the new faces must contribute. Coach Gregg Marshall timed the overseas tour for maximum effect to replace four seniors from the 2011 National Invitation Tournament champions.
Junior center Ehimen Orupke, a returner, needs to play more minutes. Newcomers such as junior forward Carl Hall need as much experience as possible.
"A lot of new faces, so it's kind of helter-skelter trying to get those guys to understand what we're doing," Marshall said. "There's a lot of teaching involved. When it should pay dividends is next fall, when they are ahead of the game."
WSU's tour of Brazil runs Aug. 8-17. Marshall twice took foreign trips while coaching at Winthrop, but before NCAA rules allowed newcomers to play.
"You've got to have some semblance of an offense, and then you've got to be pretty basic in your defense," he said. "The returners know it. You don't have to coach their effort at all. All you have to do is coach their execution."
Freshman forward Jake White prepared himself as much as possible for the experience. He played pickup games. He lifted and ran. He listened when upperclassmen described college work in the gym.
Still, he said the early practices are a shock to the system.
"It's been extremely, extremely intense," he said. "The game is so different and so structured. You have to give 100 percent every single play."
Footwork, hustle, screens, shooting form, passing, shot selection, positioning — it's all under the microscope in a way the newcomers aren't used to.
"Mostly the conditioning," White said. "We put in these plays called 'quicks,' and it's where as soon as you get the rebound and you have like five seconds to get down the floor. There are certain things you have to do in a certain way or you're doing it wrong."
July isn't typically a basketball month. Ragland said he was excited to get back in the gym with the coaches. Pickup games are fine, but he wanted to play and practice with a purpose.
"You want to be our there with your teammates," he said. "Being able to play and learn the system and play the way coach wants us to play — which is why we're here — it's better to get started early."
Orukpe, who played mop-up minutes last season, is one of Marshall's biggest projects this summer. He figures to help WSU with shot-blocking and rebounding, but his offensive skills need work.
"Ehimen is one returnee who is probably going to benefit the most," Marshall said. "This is additional practices, running our stuff and not the scout team stuff."
Senior center Garrett Stutz is sitting out July practices with a sprained ankle. He spent much of June at a camp for big men.