After a two-week hiatus due to an on campus spike in cases, the Fordham Rams look to resume their season on Wednesday when they take on the George Washington Colonials in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Earlier today, I spoke with Head Coach Mike DePaoli to discuss where his team is at in terms of preparation, as well as his thoughts on this year’s championship.
Getting Back in Shape
In terms of preparing for the tournament, Coach DePaoli’s current regiment has been much more focused on improving his players mentally instead of physically.
“We’re tired of looking at screens,” DePaoli said. “We want to play basketball, but this pause has been focused on our guys’ mental state. I’ve been going on walks with the guys, taking them to Starbucks, sending Chipotle to their rooms. To me that was more important than showing them a ball-screen they need to run.”
In terms of any physical training, Fordham’s current policy regarding the campus shut down allowed the team to go on three-mile runs every other day as a team, broken up by regular workouts on zoom. According to DePaoli, not finding out about their opponent until yesterday convinced team leadership that the focus should primarily be on strength and conditioning rather than running plays. Sine the weekend, Fordham has begun more basketball-specific preparation down in the practice facilities at Richmond.
In a normal season, reconditioning in late February would spell disaster for a college basketball team. However, due to the regular uncertainty this season has provided, Fordham has taken these roadblocks in stride, adapting as best as they can to the situation.
“The big key we need to determine now is everyone’s physical condition,” DePaoli said. “We could be the greatest coaches in the world and have an amazing game plan, but if we beat our guys down right before gameday, we’re not going to accomplish anything.”
Evaluating the Conference
While DePaoli maintained his stance that the only game he focuses is the next one, even he admitted that this conference is as open as ever. According to DePaoli, while competition has no doubt improved within the conference, frequent pauses between some teams has played a part in how much seeding has not reflected the conference preseason poll.
“The A-10 is such a fun league to coach in, it’s such good basketball,” DePaoli said. “Yeah, the league is wide open, but you have teams that may be playing better than expected because they haven’t shut down, and teams that are playing a little under par because they’ve had to pause. It’s that rhythm, timing, conditioning thing. I think it makes the league even more open for teams to make a run here.”
In terms of his first tournament as head coach, this situation might be the perfect situation for DePaoli to make a big impression on a big stage. Regardless of what happens, DePaoli emphasized how much assistant coaches Dennis Felton and Anthony Evans have helped him be the coach he needs to be.
On the Colonials
Despite the focus being away from running plays, Coach DePaoli has definitely put in the work in developing his team’s gameplan against George Washington. Last season, Fordham took down the colonials in the first round of the tournament before everything was shut down due to the pandemic. Returning to the tournament with this chip on their shoulders, DePaoli will be relying on his team’s experience to get them through this first round.
“These guys are aware of the fact that we beat GW last year,” DePaoli said. “They’re definitely aware that they beat us pretty soundly at home this year. I don’t really believe in living in the past, but I do believe experience matters, especially this time of year when it’s win or go home.”
In terms of GW themselves, locking down James Bishop and Jamison Battle will be a key for the Rams. In their last meeting way back in December, Battle and Bishop dropped 24 and 23 points respectively. Prolific scorers off of Jamion Christian’s frequent screens, Fordham’s main focus on defense is will be locking them down.
“They’re two efficient, lefty scorers who are capable of making tough, contested shots,” DePaoli said. “We need to make sure these guys are not getting any clean looks all game.”
The Return of Chuba?
Finally, getting into some speculative territory, reports from sources close to the team claimed that Chuba Ohams has made significant progress since injuring his knee last January. Unsure whether or not he’ll be able to take the floor tomorrow, Coach DePaoli emphasized that whatever decision gets made will be made in Chuba’s best interest.
“I have to protect Chuba. He’s very anxious to get back out on the court, but I’ve told him time and time again that I have to do what the doctors tell me he’s capable of,” DePaoli said. “My heart breaks for the kid, but I have to protect him and his future in the game of basketball right now.”
NEXT: Mike DePaoli makes his tournament debut as a head coach as Fordham takes on George Washington tomorrow at 2 PM in Richmond.