Welcome to Ruston, La., where guards are forwards, forwards are centers, everybody rebounds and hustles like madmen, and the coaching staff spends an unhealthy amount of time talking to doctors and trainers.
Louisiana Tech’s flexibility and creativity have been tested by injury and illness in the first month of the season, making the transition to a new coaching staff and system even more challenging.
“Coach says games are about readiness,” Bulldogs guard Alex Hamilton said. “Everybody has to be ready to do something different.”
Challenges aside, LA Tech (7-1) is out of the gate quickly as it prepares for Saturday versus Louisiana-Lafayette (3-3) at the Thomas Assembly Center, where the Bulldogs have won 35 consecutive games. ASN will broadcast the game at 1 p.m. ET.
“A huge part of our week is trying to find out who’s out and when can we get somebody back,” coach Eric Konkol said. “The most challenging part is we’ve had to ask guys in some ways to change their job description constantly. We haven’t had a lot of continuity.”
Hamilton has had one of the smoother transitions, despite the fact that he’s been asked to run the show, with the departure of Conference USA Player of the Year Speedy Smith. He’s the Bulldogs’ No. 2 scorer (15.5 ppg) and leads the team in assists (42), steals (18) and minutes.
“I’ve always played point guard,” said Hamilton, second-team all-conference last season. “With Speedy being here, it was whoever got the ball. We didn’t really have a designated point guard. Whoever got the ball would get us running.”
Hamilton, a 6-4 senior from Chipley, Fla., is also the team’s No. 3 rebounder, averaging six per game.
“If I have to go in there and bang around with the big guys, I’ll do it. That’s what trainers are for,” Hamilton joked. “Whatever’s necessary.”
The Bulldogs employed a four-guard lineup in last Tuesday’s 82-49 walkover against LSU Shreveport, something they figure to do often, at least until they have something close to a full complement of big men.
They’ve missed 6-8 Merrill Holden the entire season. 6-6 Qiydar Davis recently tweaked a knee, and 7-0 Joniah White is sidelined with an illness. In their absence, the frontcourt rotation consists of 6-8 Erik McCree, 6-8 freshman Jy’lan Washington and 6-8 redshirt freshman Branden Sheppard.
McCree, the leading scorer and rebounder (15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), is a natural, face-the-basket forward and a capable perimeter shooter (11-for-35 from 3-point range). But he’s been forced into the post, particularly at the defensive end against power forwards and centers.
“He’s been willing to do whatever we’ve asked and whatever we need,” Konkol said. “Everybody has.”
Hamilton said that he and his mates have tried to adopt some practices from NBA champ Golden State Warriors, who play “small ball” at times, with forward Draymond Green as the de facto center.
“Watching them can help us,” Hamilton said. “He can go out on the perimeter and (centers) have to step out and guard him. That opens up things inside for everybody else.”
Konkol aims to continue the program’s recent success under previous coach Michael White, now the coach at Florida whose Bulldogs teams were 83-24 the past three seasons. He spent 11 years with Jim Larranaga, at Miami and George Mason, and Larranaga’s influence runs deep. He will put his stamp on the program, but the Bulldogs will continue to run, press and play fast. Though it’s early in the season, they are in the NCAA top 50 in scoring (82.4 ppg) and are 13th in forced turnovers (18 per game).
Hamilton believes that this group can get to the NCAA tournament, particularly when everyone is available.
“I feel comfortable with everybody around me,” he said. “The guys that I have around me are warriors. They’re tough, they play hard, they do whatever they have to do. When we get the guys who are injured back, we’ll be even more of a threat.”