College basketball teams from coast to coast and border to border began practice on Friday -- all except for Williams and its NESCAC brethren.
Conference regulations keep Eph head coach Mike Maker and his fellow coaches from officially rolling out the basketballs until Thursday, Nov. 1.
"I was 17 years as a Division I assistant, so this time of year is difficult for me," said Maker, during an interview in his Williams office. "I want to be on the court with my players."
Maker said he agrees with the NESCAC student-athlete model, but that doesn't make it any easier when schools like UMass, Boston College or even MCLA are practicing.
"It's always difficult for me, personally, not to be able to work with the players when everybody else in the country is doing it," he said.
It's been quite a summer for Maker, who was pretty busy. He and wife Erica welcomed son Jack this summer. He hired two assistant coaches, and he spent much of the summer on the recruiting trail. And to think, I have trouble mowing the lawn.
Maker and his assistant coaches have already welcomed the 2012-13 Ephs to the Purple Valley. Practice will start on the aforementioned Nov. 1 and the Ephs will have three weeks to get ready to play Southern Vermont in the first round of the Williams Tip-Off Tournament on Friday, Nov. 16.
Don't for a minute think that the Ephs will use the late start as an excuse. After all, they have been to two of the last three NCAA Division III Final Fours.
But Maker said the later start will give him and his staff a chance to adjust what they do by watching other coaches in the region at their practices.
"It has afforded me and my staff the opportunity to learn from those coaches," Maker said, "because we can attend a few of the practices in the area -- which we do -- to try to get better. If there is a silver lining, it's being able to watch some good programs and gain some new ideas."
The Ephs are looking to improve on what, for many coaches in the country, would be a more-than-respectable 17-8 record. What Williams would like to improve on is the 5-5 NESCAC record and the fact that while the Ephs dropped four of their last six games, none were by more than five points. Both losses to Little Three rival Amherst were by two points and a late-season loss to Middlebury was by a point.
"It always starts with your seniors," said Maker. "To think that we have Nate Robertson and James Klemm, who have been an integral part of our success here in a short period of time, in the backcourt as senior captains is a good place to start."
The easy one is at center, where 6-foot-9 sophomore Michael Mayer will be the starter. Mayer came off the bench, played 20 minutes a night and ended up being the Ephs' leading scorer with a 13.6 average.
There are moving parts and newcomers to fit into the Williams basketball mold. That's the good news. The bad part of the news is that Maker won't be able to start the process for a couple more weeks.
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