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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jimmie Taylor, Rider working to get fit as practice begins

Jimmie Taylor is Rider's top returning scorer. (John Blaine Photo)

Lawrenceville >> Nearly 20 minutes after practice ended, Jimmie Taylor emerged from the Rider locker room still trying to catch his breath.

The Broncs had just completed their first practice in preparation for the 2014-15 season, and to say fitness was on the agenda would be an understatement.

“That’s the toughest part when you’re coming back,” Taylor said. “When we do all this running, we have to push through it. He’s not going to let us off easy. So the best thing for us to do is get mentally tough fast and get through it, so we can keep moving on.”

That’s the idea for head coach Kevin Baggett, who put his squad through a grueling ’10-in-1’ conditioning drill which requires full-court sprints at the end of the Tuesday’s two-hour session.

“We’re definitely not in basketball shape, which I don’t expect us to be on Day 1, but we have to be mentally tough with what we’re doing, too,” Baggett said. “We’ve got a long way to go in that area as well.”

Baggett hopes to develop that mental toughness with more reps.

“We’re going to continue to challenge these guys on things,” the third-year coach said. “We’ve got a lot of depth, we’ve just got to get guys in shape and getting them doing the things we need to do to be successful.”

Taylor, a promising sophomore, is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 12.1 points per game as a freshman. With that comes greater responsibility.

“I’m going to have to step up and be more of a leader,” said Taylor, acknowledging that means both vocally and with his actions. “I’m more mature than last year, so they are going to expect more out of me now that I’ve got that first year under my belt.”

Taylor will have plenty of help, according to Baggett. The coach said this is the deepest the team’s been since he took the reigns in the summer of 2012.

They’ll have point guard Teddy Okereafor and 7-foot center Matt Lopez eligible after both sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“We were counting on him a great deal as a freshman, but as a sophomore, he’s got a little more help,” Baggett said. “A lot of pressure is off of him because he doesn’t have to do as much for us. I think the better talent you have around him, the better Jimmie you’ll see.”

One thing will remain the same. A text message Baggett sent Taylor midway through the season telling him he needs to take at least 10 shots per game still holds true.

“Yes sir,” Taylor said. “That was something to make sure I stay aggressive. That’s stuck with me because I can’t slack off. As the year keeps going on, I have to get better and better.”

Health check

Senior center Junior Fortunat left practice Tuesday feeling ill and did not return.
Freshman forward Kenny Grant is still recovering from off-season knee surgery and was limited with his participation. He spent most of practice working individually with assistant coach Donyell Marshall.

Grant, at 6-foot-9, 240-pounds, could be the kind of big body the Broncs have been missing in recent years.

“When he was playing with us early on, he was a presence because he was very physical and could score the ball,” Baggett said. “We’re hoping to get that back and get him back in there because he’s an important piece of our depth.”


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