HAMPTON — A couple of benefits of coaching a young team, Hampton University's Ed Joyner Jr., said, are short memories and daily optimism.
The Pirates remain engaged and energized, despite their disappointing start. Joyner said he and the coaches see progress every practice, every game.
"It's like having a baby," he said. "A lot of times, after yesterday's gone, it's gone. What's next? They're a hungry group of kids and they do want to win. Right now, everybody's still very positive and that's a good thing."
Hampton (1-7) resumes play after a 10-day break for semester exams when it hosts American (4-6) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the HU Convocation Center.
The Pirates' primary struggles are on offense. They average 57.9 points per game and make just 38.5 percent of their field goals and 26 percent of their 3-pointers. They commit 20 turnovers per game and, according to Ken Pomeroy's expanded basketball stats, their turnover rate of 28.8 percent is 346th out of 347 Division I teams.
"We've got to get more consistent on offense," Joyner said. "What that seems like it's coming down to is having eight, nine new faces trying to gel and come together."
Indeed, four of the top five scorers are newcomers — freshmen, redshirt freshmen or junior college transfers. Freshman point guard Deron Powers from Williamsburg is the leading scorer, at 11.8 points per game.
That's not by design, Joyner said, but more a result of opponents' early scouting reports that were weighted toward stopping other players with which they were more familiar and daring the freshman to shoot and beat them.
"He's a gifted little ballplayer," Joyner said. "We think he's done an excellent job up to this point. The assist part, I think, will (improve) because teams are taking notice of him and playing more for him. So he'll be able to create for other people."
Powers also is the only player shooting better than 28 percent from 3-point range.
"We have been getting the production we're looking for in the paint," Joyner said. "We've got to get more out of our perimeter guys."
The Pirates are deeper than last year, which has allowed them to extend their defense, press and play more man-to-man. Opponents are scoring 64.7 points per game, and five of HU's seven losses were by 10 points or fewer.
"On the surface, we're defending well, but we're probably putting too much pressure on our defense," Joyner said. "We have too many lapses in games where we go four or five minutes without scoring, where every bucket that's scored by the other team becomes big to us."
Joyner expects some rust from the 10-day break between games. Practices were cut back and shortened to accommodate exam schedules. He said that players did individual work and film study that he thinks will pay off when the schedule resumes in earnest.
"The good part about all of it is, there's a lot more basketball left to play," Joyner said. "Basketball is different from a lot of sports, and when you're in a one-bid league, it truly is about what you do later in the season, not what you do in the beginning.
"It's what you learn in the beginning to get you to that point where you can make a run for it late. We're just getting out of the first quarter of the season. We've got three quarters left, and we're very positive about the direction that we're headed."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times