The building of the 2012-13 Drake Bulldogs men's basketball team continues, day by day, through the hot months of summer.
While most fans are enjoying vacations and afternoons at the pool, Drake's players and coaches are putting in the hard work that they expect will make the Knapp Center the hot place to be when the cold nights of winter arrive.
The Bulldogs are coming off a season that included two postseason tournament games, and a victory in one for the first time in 37 years. Drake tied for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, its second-highest finish in 26 years, under head coach Mark Phelps, who has won more games in his first four seasons than any Drake coach in his equivalent period.
The foundation of the team includes five players who have been regular starters-senior forwards Jordan Clarke (Rockville, Md.) and Ben Simons (Cadillac, Mich.), redshirt-sophomores Jeremy Jeffers (Wilson, N.C.), redshirt-sophomore Karl Madison (Springfield, Ill.) and redshirt-junior center Seth VanDeest (Bettendorf, Iowa), who missed all of 2011-12 because of shoulder surgery after starting the previous two seasons.
What garners more attention is the influx of eight newcomers.
"What's unique about the eight new guys is there are five freshmen to go along with two junior college transfers who will be juniors, and one senior, Chris Hines, who graduated from the University of Utah and played in the Pac-12 last year," Phelps said. "He has one year of eligibility remaining and can play immediately. It's a really good mix of eight new, talented guys."
The incoming class includes players who are expected to make an immediate impact, while building a foundation for the future. Their arrival could not have been timed better in any other year. New NCAA rules that went into effect this year allow college basketball coaches eight hours per week over an eight-week period in the summer to work directly with their players. Two of those hours may include on-court skill instruction, while the other six are devoted to strength and conditioning. Student-athletes must be enrolled in summer school classes to participate, which also gives the newcomers momentum going into fall semester to handle the rigors of Drake's academic environment.
"The new rules come at a perfect time for us," Phelps said. "To be able to integrate our new players with the returnees throughout the summer is very beneficial. What we are able to implement in those two hours each week, over the eight weeks, is perfectly timed for this team."
The 2012-13 Bulldogs are reaching the mid-point of that eight-week period, wrapping up this week's drills and conditioning as the last week of June comes to a close. Several returning players also are coaching the Bulldogs' youth basketball camps, and most of the roster is taking part in the Capital City League summer league program with players from other universities and college from the region.
"The summer workouts have been very tough," Simons said. "I think it's really going to help, not just this year, but moving forward, being able to stay in shape and really work on your game, with coaches, and not just by yourself."
As the calendar flips to July, significant work has been already been done to shape this year's team, and much more will be done in the weeks ahead. Building a team is a process that takes time. Bulldog fans can take heart in knowing that process is in good hands with the coaches and players who make up the Drake program. They are hard at work each day over the summer to build on the momentum of last year's success, and set the bar higher for 2012-13.
For information on Drake's youth basketball camps, please visit www.drakehoops.com.