Evansville, Indiana – For the first time under a new discipline, the University of Evansville men’s basketball team occupied the gym at the Third Bank’s fifth practice facility. Music swayed over the speakers as players worked through transition drills, putting on shots and throwing dunks.
On Tuesday, new head coach David Ragland was able to see the Purple Aces team.
“All the things we were doing to make this happen are essential, but that’s the exciting part,” Ragland said. “(There is) nothing to worry about, just all the effort, energy and only education.”
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There was a lot of teaching to get around.
UEFA introduced 10 players to their new surroundings in the first exercise, with four involved in the transfers. The Ace were together and doing other team bonding activities before taking the court for the first time.
The four transfers – Sekou Sada Kalle of Akron, Marvin Coleman II of UNLV, Kenny Strawbridge Jr. From Alabama, and Yacine Toumi from Indian Hills Community College – she made her presence felt in the early days of summer work.
“Being able to hang out with them, talk to them and build with them both on and off the pitch is amazing. It’s a blessing,” said striker Trey Hall. “The chemistry is going to get tighter and tighter over the course of days, over weeks, and by the time of the season we should deal with it without any issues. I can already see her starting to build together now.”
Adapting to changing training
Of all the changes the UE has undergone over the summer, one stands above the rest.
Heading into his first season as a Division I head coach, Ragland took charge of his hometown program after firing former coach Todd Lecletter and his entire crew. Since Ragland’s introduction on May 25, he has worked to improve the roster he’s earned.
“At first it was kind of annoying because when that happened, it was too late,” said striker Antoine Smith Jr. “Since coach Raggs was hired, the transition has been a smooth one. Honestly, he’s hit the ground running. I haven’t really felt weird at any point since then.”
From the outside, it appears to have succeeded up to this point.
Since Lickliter’s expulsion, the UE has lost only one player – Matthew Ragsdale, who has reopened his enlistment and signed with Division II Black Hills State. Since Ragland joined, the Aces have joined six players – rookie Cameron Gehlhausen, rookie Gabi Spinelli, and the four transfers.
“It was a good transition,” said goalkeeper Blaise Beauchamp. “I think (the coaches) are connected to each other and know what situation they are in for. I think we are all ready to take it all in and win a lot of games this year.”
Although the transfer portal entry deadline expired at the time of Lickliter’s launch, UE players were allowed to reopen their recruitment due to the change. Everyone stayed except for Rajsdahl.
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“After speaking to coach Raggs, I felt very comfortable with my decision,” said Kaley. “I was excited to be involved. The way he explains things, the way he talks, the way he talks about the game, I feel like I can learn a lot.”
Judging from their 6-24 season – the worst in the program’s history – the Aces have plenty of room to grow. This can come from learning from both new and past employees.
“We work every day,” Hall said. “This conference has a lot of great coaches, a lot of great players, so we have to respect the teams we play against. (We need) to keep the little details and work every day to improve and build that chemistry.”
With the memory of last season still alive, there is optimism among the fan base and the show that things will improve under the new cast. Ragland, having been in the NCAA Championship three times as an assistant coach, and the additions of former professors Marcus Wilson and Craig Snow, who were on the last UE team to make March Madness, as attacking coaches added excitement and anticipation to the staff’s first season.
“I think we’re going in the right direction. You can even see that now,” Beauchamp said. “I can see we’re much stronger, our game plans are changing and we’re getting a lot of ups and downs. We’re going to get the guys in shape and stronger, we’re going to move, so it’s going to be fun.
“This program is in good hands now. You can feel it.”
“Nobody has any expectations for us at this conference,” Hall said, but he has big goals. He said he built a relationship with the old machine but he’s already built a relationship with the new coaches.
“Over the next two months and the next two years, things will get better,” Hall said. “This is fresh, this is brand new. It is like a fresh breath of wind.”
The foundations for these goals appear to have been laid on day one. The goals and how to achieve them go back to the new crew and players who took to the field on Tuesday as the first to do so under Ragland’s guidance in the UE.
“At the end of the day, looking for an MVC tournament, making March Madness and shocking the world,” Hall said. “It starts with driving and putting in the work day in and day out.”
Anthony Christensen is the University of Evansville athletics reporter for the Courier & Press. You can reach him via email, [email protected], or on Twitter: AMFKristensen.