|Tulane coach Ed Conroy has a young but talented team with a good chance at 20 wins this yaer. (US Presswire)|
We're winding it down, but in our Trippin' series, we've been talking to team coaches as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Check here for all Trippin'-related stories.
Ed Conroy called to apologize for being so tardy in returning my phone call. The apology wasn't necessary. Conroy spearheads a program that's in a position unlike most others, and I knew he'd been busy as all hell in the past few weeks. In fact, Tulane, located in the heart of New Orleans, has gone through so much in the past seven years.
And in recent weeks, Conroy had to prepare for the threat of Hurricane Isaac. It kept him occupied in the immediate wake of returning from the Bahamas, where the team took its summer trip. The coaches and players landed back on American soil three weeks ago, only to immediately determine who needed to get off campus and get home and who would stay.
Isaac wound up delaying the start of classes until Sept. 3. Until school started in earnest, Tulane officials determined everyone was free to go and seek shelter or be with their families while Isaac curled its way against New Orleans and Louisiana's shores. Since the basketball team wasn't in season -- if it was, the team would have relocated altogether to another university and maintained a practice/school schedule -- the school provided housing and meals for them on campus. Conroy said seven players stayed on campus while others retreated to Baton Rouge, La., and Mississippi. Fortunately, the storm damage wasn't entirely devastating to the city or the university. That said, it still took its toll across the Crescent City.
In general, Conroy has so much appreciation for his job and his school. There has been an incredible amount of commitment to keep Tulane's basketball program at the forefront of competitiveness in Conference USA. The team has a fantastic new practice facility that opened in November. And as soon as the Final Four ended in April -- Tulane was the host university --- the school started renovating the charming-but-outdated Fogelman Arena. That venue will re-open officially in November, when the Green Wave plays its first home game of the season.
Between the renovation projects, the school also helped fund Tulane's trip to the Bahamas. Conroy said when you step back and look at all the devotion to the athletic programs as a whole at Tulane since Katrina, it's stunning. This was a university that could've been near the brink of losing the means to be a competitor in Division I. Instead, it's on the move and still improving.
What Conroy learned: "I don't think there's any question we're finally going to have some depth, the most satisfying thing about the trip."
The team will get back the services of Kendall Timmons, Ricky Tarrant and Tomas Bruah, who went down with injuries last season. Tulane finished 15-16 after a 14-6 start.
Who stood out: Tarrant. Conroy said, "He had a really good season last year and made the commitment to be on campus all summer. Tarrant's a really competitive player and can score in a hurry -- especially for a point guard."
Tarrant also rebounds well -- considering he's 6-foot-1-- and is getting better as a creator, according to Conroy. He didn't turn it over much against the Bahamanian squads, either. An improvement, for sure.
Biggest concern going forward: "The biggest thing we have to step forward with is rebounding," Conroy said, adding that Timmons' return to the lineup automatically makes them better in that regard. Plus, 6-foot-7 junior Josh Davis being back and helping the healthy bodies will signal improvement.
-- The squad played three games instead of the normal four or five because the coaching staff wanting to test the players' bodies without putting a lot of strain on them. This group is very injury-aware without being timid in its play. Tulane brings in eight new players this year.
-- Tulane lost only two seniors but only one who saw significant playing time, and that was due to all the injuries. Signs are definitely pointing to this team being near the top of the league.
-- To get a sense of Timmons' importance, he was the first preseason All-League player Tulane had in 15 years. An Achilles injury curtailed his season just before conference play. That injury, however, resulted in Tarrant becoming an All-League player.
-- Tulane lost a week's worth of workouts/individual play because of the hurricane. Not a huge deal but just an inconvenience as coaches try to get ready to start the school year and gear up for recruiting. Now the staff is on the road for the open recruiting period and visiting prospects while the guys back on campus are adjusting.