Sports

Peele takes off kid gloves

Let's put it this way.

The two-hour, 40-minute practice Winthrop's basketball team went through on Saturday afternoon at the Winthrop Coliseum wasn't the best two hours and 40 minutes the Eagles have produced.

Almost two months and probably 50 practices into the season, maybe the Eagles were due. Coach Randy Peele thought his team might have had one other like it.

He doesn't want any more.

The Eagles went through the two hours like, well, college kids, like lots of things besides concentrating on practice were racing through their minds.

Things like final exams, which started last week and they'll have two full days of on Monday and Tuesday.

Like coming from 10 down in the final five minutes to beat Akron, a game that had them walking with a little juice in their steps late Tuesday night.

Things like believing they've actually proven something in a season that's just eight games old -- and they're 5-3 -- and has at least 23 more games to go.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," Peele told them before practice began, while emphasizing the positives in being 5-3 against a brutal schedule.

While Peele pointed out just how good the next opponent is -- Mississippi, which went into Saturday's game against UCF 6-0 and averaging 95 points a game -- the Eagles didn't seem to understand the urgency of getting ready for next Thursday's trip to Jackson, Miss.

The practice moved along at a pretty good pace until a couple of Eagles missed dunks, forcing Peele to institute a new rule.

"Miss a dunk and everyone runs," Peele yelled.

Despite the warning, the team had to run three sprints when dunks rattled off the iron.

But nothing got under Peele's skin more than a drill called "KU shooting." The Eagles must make 115 shots in three minutes or they run. They have to run very fast, as in sprinting baseline to baseline four times in 22 seconds.

Try it sometime.

If one player fails to make it, they run again. They ran again. Several times.

Through three tries of "KU shooting" the sweat flowed and chests heaved.

"If we don't do another thing in practice," Peele yelled, as he paced back and forth across the lane, "we're going to make 115 shots in three minutes."

On the fourth try the Eagles made it, made it easily, hitting 124 shots, which left Peele a little more perplexed.

"The most we've ever made is 127 and you guys just made 124," he said. "It's all about how you approach things."

The "approach" Saturday didn't include total concentration, especially with a couple of the freshmen.

Winthrop's system isn't simple. It's based on timing and cuts and screens, and the number of offensive sets the players have to remember is mind boggling. And it only takes one player being in the wrong place, setting a late screen, making a weak cut to screw them up.

A couple of the freshmen would run a set perfectly once and the very next time mess it up.

But Peele kept plugging, kept begging for better effort, more concentration.

It was a hard Saturday afternoon, but the kind of afternoon that, a few months from now, might be the difference between winning a championship and having a three-year run of Big South titles go by the boards.

That was the heaviest message Peele laid on his players when practice was over and he called them to midcourt at 5:42 p.m.

"I believe this team can be really good," he said. "I believe it's one that can win the regular season and the tournament championship in our league.

"But coaches can take a team to a certain point, and then it's up to the players to decide where they want to go. I know that works. The makeup of a team is very important."

He then rattled off the names of a few college teams with superior talent to the Eagles but with lesser records, because "they aren't very good teams."

The players stood in a semicircle at midcourt. No one spoke, except Peele. Everyone listened.

"We're 5-3," Peele said, looking at each face, "and there's a lot to be proud of. But where do you want to go? How good do you want to be?"

He told them their biggest problem right now is concentrating for "two hours, two-and-a-half hours," the time it usually takes to play a game, that one missed screen, one blown cut in the final two minutes of the wrong game could end a season.

He pointed out that Winthrop has averaged 26 wins the past three seasons.

"The bar is high," he said, "and you guys need to understand where the bar is."

And he told them this:

"If we had played today," he said, "we lose."

They get today off from basketball to concentrate on the books, the real reason they're at Winthrop to begin with. But when Peele called them together at midcourt, he left them with a message.

"Monday, we come back in here," he said. "Monday is a work day."

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