Nine newcomers dot ASU’s roster

JONESBORO -- Some days, it will take Mike Balado 25 minutes to put together a practice plan but 45 minutes to split up his roster into teams for that day's session.

For Arkansas State's sixth-year men's basketball coach, practice plans are now routine. It helps, too, that he's got a binder full of them from seasons past.

But the depth -- 13 scholarship players and three walk-ons -- that's not nearly as familiar.

"You don't know what lineup you're going to have out there," Balado told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette prior to the Red Wolves' first official practice Tuesday afternoon. "Who can play with each other? Who can't? Who complements each other well? Who doesn't? It's just still learning [about] them."

After an August trip to the Dominican Republic, Balado has a bit more understanding of a roster that includes nine newcomers.

But the six weeks until ASU's Nov. 7 opener against Division II Harding will be critical in terms of both getting the Red Wolves up to speed with Balado's system and in shape to make it function properly.

"Just looking at the practice plan, we probably stopped here because we had limited time," Balado said, pointing somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way down the day's agenda. "It gives us an opportunity to teach and then kind of put it into play after as opposed to waiting until the next day when you're learning through film."

Although ASU will have to press on without Norchad Omier and Desi Sills -- both of whom transferred in the offseason -- there are options both in the frontcourt and at the point guard spot.

Junior Caleb Fields, now entering his fourth season, will be the No. 1 ballhandler after splitting duties with Sills a year ago. But freshman Terrance Ford Jr. is hot on his heels.

"To me, he's made the biggest jump because he has the hardest job," Balado said of Ford. "He guards [Fields] every day in practice. Fields knows the system like the back of his hand, he knows all the counters, so [Terrance] is learning a lot from him."

Balado envisions a rotation that could include double-digit players on a nightly basis, with nobody playing more than 30 minutes per game.

That'll be made easier if the Red Wolves can cycle through three or four different centers -- Balado specifically mentioned freshman Izaiyah Nelson, Florida State transfer Alaaeddine Boutayeb, junior Antwon Jackson and Division II transfer Omar El-Sheikh.

"I'm still learning a lot about this team," Balado said. "I haven't had a new team like this since my first year, so [learning about them is] something that we're looking forward to."