MICHIGAN CITY — A big part of the program Tom Wells is working to build at Michigan City has little to do with basketball.
"Part of the culture change has to do with character," the new Wolves coach said after Monday's first official practice. "We try to surround ourselves with energy-givers and guys I don't have to worry about from 7:15 (a.m.) to 2:15 (p.m.). I do a lot of counseling. A lot of times, their reaction to adversity is not real good. We said for 15 of the last 17 years, the longer we're in the game against Michigan City, the better chance we have to win. Some of those lessons, now we're on the other side, trying to teach the answers to that stuff."
While tryouts technically started Monday, Wells' varsity roster is largely set. The remainder of the 23 players (26 counting three who couldn't practice Monday for not having a physical) are essentially vying for another 10 spots at the JV level as Wells plans to keep an estimated 20 in all.
"We're kicking around the idea of one more for a big body," he said. "The question becomes, can he sit the bench, not get much time and not be a problem? That's something we've got to find out. The JV team was hurt by grades at the freshman and JV level. We're missing probably five of our best freshmen. It's my first year, I think it's the best year to draw a line in the sand (as far as academics). We'll found out if they're passionate about it or not."
Two players from last year went to Westville. In turn, Jose Jenkins came from Westville to Michigan City with his brother Antonio Hurt, one of Wells' assistants.
"It's been good," junior Tahari Watson said. "It's been a big change, way different practices. Coach Wells is a good coach. We're running a lot of plays that we didn't run before. We run the floor. We love it. Everybody's excited. We've got speed. We're not as tall. If we rebound, we're going to be good. We were real hyped for practice. It's going to be a good season. We're expecting a championship."
Wells is optimistic based on the progression during the summer.
"It's been really good," he said. "You go back to June and fast forward, I think we've grown a lot. A lot of that is their trust with me. I'm a relationship guy. Sometimes, you can't really speed that up. I think it's easy to buy in based on the way we want to play. It's easy to say we want to play fast, what they don't know is the fast lane still has out of bounds. That's the learning part of it. The careless turnovers, the effort type of things, those are the parameters that still exist. But I like the kids, I like where we are, I think I like where we're headed in the fact we've improved from June to here. If we can continue that growth pattern, good things are going to happen."
Optimism typically abounds in the pre-season, and those question of character and channeling emotions won't be fully known until the season starts. Wells raises the subject each day with a discipline lesson.
"Today, we talked about respect," Wells said. "These kids can be very confrontational. They feel if you disrespect them, they're going to lash out and disrespect you. We have to try get them to understand, give respect to everybody whether they deserve it or not. We're going to learn more about your character at that time than you getting confrontational. We don't know what will happen the first time they get hit in the mouth. If this was six weeks, eight weeks ago, if someone had punched us in the mouth, we'd have a war. That's our only answer, to fight. We're so deep, one through 10, it's our job to be able to make them uncomfortable out here Monday through Thursday, so we can find out how we're going to deal with adversity."
The Wolves open in two weeks at Westville.