Cleanthony Early, Sam Dower

How Spike, Josh and Sam spent their summer vacations

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a college player goofing off or hitting the beach this summer. We checked in with three players with something to prove in the upcoming season, so we could find out how they’re working toward their goals.

No Flash in the Pan

As a freshman, Spike Albrecht was a seldom-used bench player. Suddenly, in the title game, he was not only in the game against Louisville, but he was on fire. Albrecht played 28 minutes – by far his most of the season – and poured in 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting. A lot of guys could live on that for the rest of their lives, but for Albrecht, it’s not nearly enough.

“I was more upset that we lost and that I couldn’t do anything in the second half to help us win,” Albrecht told NBCSports by phone. “I was kind of bummed out.”

It couldn’t have helped that Kate Upton – subject of a legendary post-game tweet from Albrecht – decided Blake Griffin is more her speed.

We know now that Albrecht isn’t content being a bench-warmer on the court, or in life. Now that it seems like everybody knows his name, Albrecht is working to make sure his game is up to par, despite the fact that John Beilein has Derrick Walton coming in to, presumably, play in front of him.

To read through’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.

“There’s a lot of talented guys on this team,” Albrecht acknowledged. “But I don’t think they’re going to take me lightly, you know? The most important thing at my size is to get stronger and more athletic, then do as much on the court as I can. Make sure my handle is as good as it can be and that my shot is right.”

Albrecht is also doubling up on his classwork, taking philosophy and science in the compressed summer session. Which is not to say that he’s having no fun at all. He kept his head right and his game tight even while he was visiting home.

“It’s nice because me, Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary are all from Indiana, and we all live within about a half hour of each other, so we were getting together every day, working out and playing games and stuff. It’s great playing with other guys who know what they’re doing so you don’t get hurt or anything.”

Albrecht isn’t all business. He enjoys a good game of golf. But he’s the rare college kid who thinks video games are a waste of time. So, maybe he’s mostly business.

Recovering from Injury

Where Albrecht is attempting to deal with the sudden appearance of the spotlight, one of his Big Ten rivals has the opposite problem. Josh Gasser was a major component at Wisconsin from day one, averaging 34 minutes, 7.6 points, and two assists per game as a freshman in the 2011-12 season. The 6’3″, 190-lb point guard was set to expand on those numbers: Bo Ryan had named him the starting point guard right before Gasser blew out his ACL in October, and was forced to miss the entire season.

“It happened so quick,” Gasser said via telephone. “Everything was going so well, then a second changes everything. It was a mixture of feelings, being pissed off or mad or sad, depressed, whatever. It was tough to deal with, but after a couple of weeks it all sunk in and I decided to rise to the challenge.”

Right after surgery to repair the ligaments, Gasser could only wait for the swelling to go down. Then began the torturous process of taking baby steps. “At first, the worst thing is trying to get your flexion back. Your knee is so stiff you can’t bend it at all. Then as it goes on, there are various exercises that you dislike the most. Conditioning, and trying to get your legs under you because it’s been so long since you’ve run and cut.”

Gasser was told by trainers that his injury would take a full twelve months to heal. Nine months in, he’s re-learning how to run, jump and cut, alongside the mental effort of enduring residual pain and trying not to hurry his body toward the upcoming season. He’s under orders to rest and recuperate in between rehab and workouts, so he’s had time to indulge in the sort of TV marathons the rest of us take for granted.

“I’m on the second season of Friday Night Lights,” Gasser said. “I usually don’t get into series; I just like to watch basketball games and football games. But after the NBA Finals were over, I started that series and now I’m hooked on it.”

Gasser is also taking a summer class, and his rigorous workout regimen allows the Wisconsin native to indulge in a statewide rite of summer – plenty of bratwurst.

“I’m from here, so I eat them pretty often,” Gasser said. “I’m trying to gain some weight back, so it’s not really a problem for me. I’m burning a lot of calories, so whatever I put back in me is fine.”

Filling NBA-sized Shoes

Quite often, players will spend part of the summer months helping out at coaching clinics. Gonzaga’s Sam Dower recently taught the youth of Spokane some of the moves he’s been working on through the warm months. “I’m working on my conditioning, also driving to the basket now that Kelly Olynyk is gone,” he said. “Teams also try to take away my left hand a lot, so I’m working on a counter move getting to that right hand off that left shoulder.”

Dower has big shoes to fill. Olynyk had a breakout season for the Zags last year, his stock rising so high he became the thirteenth pick in the NBA draft. The Canadian big man impressed in the summer league as well, giving Dower a high mark to aim at.

An avid outdoorsman, Dower has enjoyed spending time with David Stockton and other teammates at the Stockton family’s lake house when rare weekend free time comes up. He says Olynyk and Stockton have had some epic Call of Duty sessions, but he personally prefers the NBA2K franchise.

Dower also took in a couple of summer flicks, though he may have wished he hadn’t.

“I saw The Conjuring,” he said, laughing. “It was probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even sleep that night. I definitely recommend it if you like scary films.”

So, pretty much your typical summer for these guys. Food, sun, fun and some elite-level basketball workouts. And they, like the rest of us, can hardly wait until the weather turns cooler, and the action on the court starts up again. That’s when all the work really pays off.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.