The journey toward three straight OVC Championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament began on Monday, Sept. 30, as Murray State men’s basketball held its first official practice.
“Real excited about our first official full week of practice coming up,” Head Coach Matt McMahon said. “[I’ve] been real pleased with our guys from a work rate standpoint. Really looking forward to getting to practice back-to-back days so we can really start improving our habits and get better as a team.”
The Racers are coming off of their second-straight OVC Championship and second-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Murray State advanced to the Round of 32, where they fell to Florida State University.
While the program has lost players like Ja Morant, Shaq Buchanan and Brion Sanchious, Murray State has replenished its roster through returning players and the 2018 recruiting class.
The Racers boast a roster returning seven players and welcoming six freshmen, including redshirt freshman DaQuan Smith. One of the returning seven is redshirt senior forward Anthony Smith. After working his way back from his 2018 season-ending ankle injury, Smith said the group had a solid summer and is ready to go to work for the upcoming season.
“It’s been very good,” Anthony Smith said. “[We’re] just trying to gel with these new guys within the system to come together, so we can have a remarkable season.”
With six new players being added to the Racers’ system, Murray State is set to have one of its most complete teams in recent memory.
“We are real deep at every position,” Anthony Smith said. “That makes it even better for us overall as a team, because we don’t have to dwell on one player. With us knowing that we’re deep at every position, it means that there’s no time to take plays off. Because there’s somebody right behind you who’s working against you and who’s trying to compete with you at every chance to take your spot.”
Part of this depth is thanks to a solid incoming freshman class for McMahon and his staff, that has a slew of freshmen who have come in and impressed the team right away.
“Every player that has come in in this freshman class, has exceeded their expectations for me,” Anthony Smith said. “They were all highly recruited to the school, so I feel like everything that they’re doing is nothing that is new to me.”
The team was also able to build on their culture from last season through a series of pre-season games in the Bahamas.
This allowed upperclassmen and underclassmen to bond and get familiar with the team before starting practice in the fall.
“On that trip seven of our 11 guys who played on the trip didn’t play on the team last season, so I thought it was really beneficial from an experience standpoint for them,” McMahon said. “But really just getting to spend that time together and hopefully start to build team chemistry and comradery I think is a lot more valuable than the x’s and o’s.”
McMahon says he will look to his Racers who have had experience within the program to help guide and teach the incoming players in order to achieve maximum success.
“I think it’s really important that you’re able to depend on the returning players who’ve proven what they can do at this level,” McMahon said. “As you look at this group you return Tevin, Darnell, KJ, Anthony although he missed last season injured, who’ve proven themselves at this level and I think you have to now get the newcomers to join in with them and build the best team we can.”
Anthony Smith and Brown have been with the team the longest due to injuries, but have also logged a lot of minutes in their time as Racers. McMahon says the two have seamlessly stepped into leadership roles for the team.
“Tevin and Anthony have really set the tone for how hard you have to work,” McMahon said. “The value of every possession, how we do things on a day-to-day basis; I think from how much time and how hard they’re working they’ve set the tone.”
Murray State will continue to prepare for the start of the season and its first time in front of Racer fans, when the team hosts Racer Mania at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24, at the CFSB Center.