CORVALLIS, Ore. - It may be August but that didn't keep Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson from running his team like they were getting ready for a Pac-12 Conference game when the Beavers held their first official practice on Tuesday in preparation for their trip to Europe.
The men's basketball team will fly to Paris on Aug. 18 and is scheduled to play four games on the 11-day trip that includes stops in Barcelona and Madrid - vs. St. Charles Basketball Club of Charenton/St. Maurice on Aug. 21; vs. Manresa of the Spanish Professional League on Aug. 24; vs. Real Canoe National Club on Aug. 26; and vs. Club Baloncesto Estudiantes on Aug. 27.
Robinson took full advantage of the first of 10 official practices teams receive when they make international trips by running the Beavers through several drills - and wind sprints - to let them know the upcoming tour is mostly about business and not a European vacation.
"This isn't about pussyfooting around," Robinson said. "We are not going on a vacation. We are trying to get some work done, so every day is going to be like an in-season practice."
Several veterans and three freshmen -Langston Morris-Walker, Jarmal Reid and Victor Robbins - make up the 2012-13 roster that returns 74.4 percent of its scoring from last season, second-most in the Pac-12 Conference, despite losing leading scorer Jared Cunningham (17.9 ppg) who left after his junior season for the NBA.
Cunningham, who was the 24th overall pick in the NBA Draft, will be missed for his offense and defensive tenacity, as will Kevin McShane, a three-time team captain and vocal leader. Rhys Murphy, who had several injuries and played sparingly in his three seasons in Corvallis, also won't return after transferring to Chaminade University.
However, the cupboard is far from bare as the Beavers return four starters with Ahmad Starks at guard, Devon Collier and Eric Moreland at forward and Angus Brandt at center. Joe Burton, who started 21 games last season, and guards Roberto Nelson and Challe Barton bring a great deal of experience as they combined to play in all but one game last season.
"We have to get over the psychological effect of Jared not being here," Robinson said. "I think physically and from a scoring standpoint, we've got quite a bit coming back. But psychologically, when you lose a team leader, a guy who is a pro and such a great defender, you have to get past the mental aspect of losing him."
Robinson looks at the trip to Europe as a once-in-a-lifetime team-bonding and cultural experience, but he also wants to get his team in shape and see if any of the freshmen or redshirts,Daniel Gomis and Michael Moyer, can work their way into the regular rotation.
"There are a couple of things we want to accomplish," Robinson said about the 10 practices. "We want to get the freshmen up to speed quickly so that they can be productive on the trip, but, more importantly, be productive early in the season. The second thing is we want to condition ourselves this year so that we can play better defense. And then thirdly, we want to get the guys like Daniel Gomis, who didn't play last year, some reps because he is going to have to be in there playing a lot this year for us.
"I think one of our biggest weaknesses last year wasn't chemistry; it was depth. What we want to accomplish on this trip is to find out who are going to be sort of those 7-8-9-10 guys. I think this team has a wonderful amount of chemistry to it and it's going to be augmented by this trip overseas. But, more importantly, we want to figure out who our second team will be."
Oregon State is coming off its best year in more than two decades in which it had a 20-win season for the first time since 1989-90 and just its second winning mark (21-15) since Gary Payton was a senior and the Beavers last advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Robinson and his staff completely changed the offense last season to lead the conference in scoring for the first time in Oregon State history with a school-record 78.9 points per game. The Beavers won four postseason games - two in the Pac-12 Tournament and two in the CBI - and pulled off the biggest upset in Pac-10/12 Tournament history when they knocked off No. 1-seed Washington in the quarterfinals.
Individually, Cunningham led the Pac-12 in steals for the second consecutive season, while Collier led the conference in field goal percentage (.615), Moreland was tops in blocked shots per game (1.92) and Burton was the only player to finish in the Top 15 in rebounding, assists and steals. Starks knocked down 79 three-pointers, the second-most in Oregon State single-season history, and improved his defense considerably with 58 steals, while Brandt led the team in three-point percentage (.492) and was ninth in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.535).