Practice starts at 6 a.m. sharp for the Academy of Art men's basketball team, which means that by 5:45 a.m. at the latest, senior guard Aaron Anderson has the Urban Knights ambling off the bus and shaking off sleep. By the time they step onto the Kezar Pavilion court, they are ready to work.
The early-bird approach is part of the solution for improving upon last season's 6-21 (4-16 PacWest Conference) record. Third-year coach Julius Barnes will rely upon the 6-foot Anderson (8.5 points, 3.9 rebounds per game) and 6-3 guard Alexis Moore (17.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.9 steals), the only two seniors on this roster, to help lead an inexperienced team.
However, the Knights are not short on talent. Barnes assembled a strong recruiting class, which gives the Urban Knights the most depth they have had in his tenure. Look especially for 6-6, 205-pound junior Yanick Kulich, whom Barnes calls the Knights' most polished post player, to make an immediate impact. “The way the [newcomers] focus on the court, and the way they listen, is tremendous,” said Anderson. “That's what's going to make them better.”
Like many coaches, Barnes has marveled at the San Antonio Spurs' near-decade of NBA dominance. Gregg Popovich, the Spurs' coach, doesn't have jump-out-of-the-gym athletes, but his players are immensely skilled and buy completely into the dynamic he has fostered.
Barnes refocused his recruiting strategy accordingly.
“They're not as athletic as guys we've had in the past, but they have a higher basketball IQ,” Barnes said of the newcomers. “We wanted to make sure we brought in guys that really understand the game.”
That savvy will help them adjust to Barnes' approach, which relies upon experienced players like Anderson and Moore to lead by example. For that reason, both players were in constant contact with Barnes this summer.
“He ran through that we have to be extensions of him on the court,” said Moore, an All-PacWest third-team selection a season ago. “That's a cool part of having [Anderson] out there with me, and being a senior backcourt. We understand the game from a different perspective, and we can help bring the other guys along.”
Anderson makes a concerted effort to take the newcomers aside when their heads start spinning. The former Riordan High School star, one of two San Franciscans on the roster (5-11 sophomore guard Herman Pratt IV of Sacred Heart Cathedral High School is the other), likes what he sees.
“It's much more intense than it has been in previous years,” Anderson said. “I feel like we can rotate guys in and get good minutes out of everyone.”