A rule whose time had come

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A few players are able to make a seamless transition from high school to college basketball, but for most incoming freshmen there are plenty of growing pains. Those pains might be eased a bit in this and future seasons because of an NCAA rules change designed to give players a head start athletically and academically.

The NCAA rule was implemented this summer and allows each player to spend two hours per week with coaches for an eight-week period.

All players benefit, but coaches and players agree that freshmen get the most out of it.

In years past, coaches would not be able to teach their system to new players until the fall. Now, they are able to indoctrinate the freshmen as early as May.

"It's definitely valuable," said Pitt junior guard Trey Zeigler, a transfer from Central Michigan who will suit up for the Panthers for the first time this fall. "For freshmen and for someone like me transferring in, we're getting to capture what coach [Jamie] Dixon wants us to do. We can pick up the system, the defense. It's really beneficial. For the freshmen especially, they get to pick things up quicker.

"When I was a freshman, all we could do was play pick-up and lift. This is a real advantage. I know a lot of guys on other teams aren't doing it. I'm just glad we're taking advantage of it."

Dixon was instrumental in getting the new rule passed. He is a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors, which recommended to the presidents of NCAA schools that more contact between players and coaches be allowed during the summer months.

Players who take part in the coaching sessions are required to be enrolled in summer school.

"It's going to help the graduation rates, which is something we've been proactive with," Dixon said of the NABC's objectives.

In previous years, coaches could watch their players in summer league games on certain calendar days permitted under NCAA rules, but direct contact was limited until the fall semester.

Now, players have almost daily contact with the coaching staff in the summer months. Pitt has four 30-minute sessions per week. Dixon said he is still tinkering with how best to utilize the extra time with the players, but he is hopeful that the rules change will help the players develop as players and students.

"It's a good balance," he said. "It's not too much. I worry about burnout. I worry about things that could come along with it. But I think it's a good balance. Really, it's a way of connecting with your players on a daily basis. ... Most of all, it will help academically."

For Jim Ferry and his staff at Duquesne, the rule change could not have come at a better time.

Ferry was hired in April and brought in six new players this spring to mesh with the returning roster.

"It's been the best rule the NCAA has changed, ever," said Ferry. "To have access to your kids is great, not just for the basketball side, but they're around and with each other. For us, we couldn't have hit it at a better time."

Ferry, who spent the past 10 years at Long Island University-Brooklyn, said he used to get his players for a week before finals in the spring semester, then wave goodbye until they were back on campus in the fall.

At Duquesne, he said, he has broken the allowable two hours down to a pair of one-hour on-court workouts a week.

His main focus has been individual workouts so the coaching staff can get a feel for each player, but it also has served as a way for players to learn the vocabulary and style of the new coaching staff.

"It helps us get a feel for what each guy's strength and weaknesses are, and get our expectations across," said Ferry.

He also said it's a major help to get younger players onto campus early and in class to help them get used to the classroom challenges that await them in the fall.

"Academically, it's great to get them acclimated to Duquesne, get them to understand the program, then on the basketball side to get them in working with their teammates."

At Pitt, Dixon has a freshman class of which much is expected. Center Steve Adams is one of the top recruits in the country and point guard James Robinson is expected to play a role in the rotation. Their learning curves will not be as steep as they would have been when the team begins practice in mid-October.

Count Pitt redshirt freshman forward Durand Johnson among those who like the new rule. He is jealous that Adams, Robinson and Chris Jones, the other incoming freshman, are able to learn the system earlier than he did.

"It definitely would have helped me last year rather [than] coming in and not knowing anything," he said.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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