After one week of practice, Southeast Missouri State University men's basketball coach Gary Garner is pleased with the way his team is performing.
"I really like this group of kids I have," he said. "They're practicing hard and they're practicing with a lot of enthusiasm."
But before anybody believes the Indians are ready to start the season, Garner quickly stopped that thought right in its tracks.
"Yes, I'm happy with where we're at right now," he said. "But we have such a long way to go. I know coaches all cry at this time of the year, but we have to get so much better."
Added a laughing Garner, "Our offense looks like five cats in a sack when we run it."
All kidding aside, Garner knows that it's going to be a slow learning process for his 2001-2002 team, which is extremely short on experience.
The Indians lost their top four scorers from last year's squad that went 18-12 overall and finished a fifth-place 8-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Southeast, which has just one senior, features six rookies among its 11 scholarship players.
"We're so inexperienced and we have so many new players," Garner said. "It's a learning process and it's kind of slow, but it's nothing I didn't expect. We just have to have patience and keep working hard every day."
Garner, whose team hosts the Czech Republic Nov. 8 in an exhibition game and opens the regular season Nov. 16 at home against Birmingham Southern, said he can already tell that the Indians should be a team that meshes well together.
"I really think we're going to have good chemistry," he said. "We've really got a good group to work with."
Garner said he has been fairly pleased with all of Southeast's new players, the majority of whom are going to be pressed into quite a bit of playing time right off the bat.
Southeast's backcourt will be brand new as the Indians returned no true guards from a year ago. Junior-college transfers Kenny Johnson and Demetrius King, sophomore Justin Smith, redshirt freshman Derek Winans and true freshman Brett Hale will be manning various backcourt positions. Johnson figures to be the squad's primary point guard.
Of that group, only Smith has any Division I experience and he saw very limited action early last year at Arkansas State before transferring to Southeast at the semester. He is ineligible until the second semester this season.
"We've basically got no guards with any Division I experience, but I like our guards," said Garner. "I'm pretty happy with all our new players (including true freshman center Adam Crader)."
Among the veterans, junior forward Drew DeMond -- the only full-time returning starter -- missed a few early practices with a stomach virus but Garner said that shouldn't be a problem.
"Drew is a veteran who really knows our system," Garner said. "If anybody was going to get sick, he's the one."
One player -- walk-on freshman forward Ben Jones -- recently left the squad to concentrate on his academics. The Indians have one other walk-on freshman in guard Kevin Roberts.