The sun never truly sets on college basketball. Games may have ended and the new season may be months away but the work and the preparation never really cease.
For Travis Steele, who's headed into his fourth season as the men's basketball coach at Xavier University, he's already thinking about personnel and how the Musketeers might look and play in 2021-22.
Steele only has a partial idea right now because his full team isn't assembled under the same roof yet.
Once incoming freshmen Elijah Tucker and Cesare Edwards arrive, and Iowa transfer Jack Nunge gets on campus, the picture will start to become more clear.
"Until we see them all here live, that will give us a better feel," Steele told The Enquirer this week. "My hopes are we're gonna try to play at a good pace on the offensive end. We're going to share the basketball; we're going to pass the heck out of it. We're going to try to space the floor as best as we possibly can and then I think we're gonna be a lot bigger.
"You look at it – Jack's 6-foot-11, 245 pounds. Zach (Freemantle) is gonna be bigger physically, a lot stronger than he was last year and he's 6-9. Dieonte (Miles) has put on another 10 pounds this spring. He's up to 232 and he's 6-10. Then you've got Cesare Edwards, who's 6-10, 225 already. Now all of a sudden you got 6-10, 6-10, 6-11, 6-9. We're big and we have true size now which is good.
"Because I felt like last year I didn't think we had that. I thought it hurt us, that level of physicality ... on both ends of the floor. We'll play a little differently just because our personnel's a little different, but I think the overall theme – we're gonna try to play fast, share the basketball, we want to be a man-to-man defensive team, and I think we're gonna be bigger around the rim defensively which should significantly help our two-point field-goal percentage defense."
There are also questions about several injuries and the recovery process for key rotational players.
The fact that Miles is putting on weight is a good indicator that he's worked his way through last season's hip injury, but the three bigger questions center around fifth-year senior Nate Johnson, Ben Stanley and Nunge, all of whom suffered season-ending injuries last season.
Johnson, who missed the final five games last season with a shin injury, is nearly fully recovered.
"He's doing great," Steele said of Johnson's recovery. "He's been working out. I can't say he'd be full-go today but he's close. If we needed to play in a week he could probably play. He's recovered really well."
Nunge, who tore the meniscus in his right knee on Feb. 25, moved to Cincinnati last weekend, said Steele, but he's still finishing up school and graduating from Iowa before he'll settle in at Xavier full-time.
Steele said Nunge's "doing really well. He's been rehabbing at Iowa, lifting out there as well, getting his knee stronger. He should be full-go in June."
Stanley's in the midst of rehabbing a torn ACL that he sustained in early January and the recovery from that surgery is more extensive, so the outlook won't be more clear until later this year.
As the roster stands now, Xavier has 12 scholarship players. Steele said he's still open to adding one more piece but it would have to be the right fit in terms of culture, style of play and roster construction, "because we're not gonna force the fit."
Another important roster question surrounds Tucker, a 6-foot-8 forward from Canton, Georgia, who Steele initially planned to redshirt next season, but after Tucker had a monster senior season, Steele said he's reassessing the situation.
"When we recruited him, I told him he was gonna redshirt, that's what I planned on doing with Elijah," said Steele. "He's a full year young for his grade. But I will tell you, he had a really good senior year. I just want to see where he's at strength-wise, physicality-wise, but he's really talented and he's skilled and athletic. He's been really on that upward trend."
The other thing that's about to change in college basketball is recruiting. The NCAA is ending the lengthy recruiting dead period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic so coaches will be able to resume in-person recruiting starting June 1.
"What's great is we get to bring them to campus," said Steele. "We haven't had any (recruits) on campus so we have kids lining up to visit right now. It's been a year and a half since anyone's been able to be here. Then the last two weekends in June we're allowed to go out and watch high school events so we'll be able to go out and recruit a lot of AAU events so it will be good to evaluate all these 2022 and 2023 kids."
Xavier's gotten really close with four or five recruits in the 2022 class and Xavier's staff is really comfortable with that group as people and players, Steele said.
"We're on the right guys," said Steele. "The guys we're recruiting really hard have been crushing it."
It's probably going to end up being a three-person recruiting class in 2022, Steele said.
"The transfer portal has really changed the recruiting philosophy," he said. "I don't think you're going to see many classes where it's four or five guys anymore just because of the portal."