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Nick Kusko (left) and Brandon Trautman Courtesy: Photography/JMU Athletics Communications
Practice Players a Boost to Women's Basketball Program
Courtesy:JMUSports.com Release:03/11/2013
The remarkable and continued success of the JMU women's basketball program is due in large part to the people behind the program, starting, of course, with head coach Kenny Brooks.  Then there are assistant coaches, office staff, managers, athletic trainers, academic advisers, strength coaches, among others.  Unbeknownst to many Dukes fans, however, there's another support group crucial to the team's success --a cadre of college students who contribute their time and basketball abilities to help the JMU players succeed on the court.  These volunteers to the program are the team's male practice players.

Some of those players took time recently to share their experiences.  Thanks to Patrick Boling, a junior sports and recreation management major from Charlottesville, Va. (Monticello H.S.); Jae Kim, a sophomore biology major from Annandale, Va. (Bishop Ireton); Ryan Dyke, a freshman sports and recreation major from Front Royal, Va. (Skyline); Nick Kusko, a junior sport and recreation leadership major from Chambersburg, Pa. (Chambersburg Area); Brandon Trautman, a senior marketing major from Harrisburg, Pa. (Bishop McDevitt); and Sam Kube.

How did you become a practice player for JMU women's basketball? Why?

The Director of Operations, Tim Clark, invited to practice after seeing me play. -- Patrick Boling

I read an email advertising the need for practice players and thought I'd give it a shot. I joined because being able to play basketball, other than pick-up, on my college's main basketball court was on my bucket list. So I thought that I could fulfill this by being a practice player. Also I heard that there were perks such as free gear and class enrollment priority. - Jae Kim

Tim Clark sent out an email, and I thought it would be a fun thing to do. - Ryan Dyke

I had experience with being a practice player at my last school, UNC Wilmington. When I came to JMU for grad school, I contacted Tim Clark, the Director of Basketball Operations, about doing it here as well. I highly valued my experience with the women's basketball team at UNCW, and I was looking for a similar experience here at JMU. So far, I have not been disappointed. - Nick Kusko

I became a practice player as a junior, but still remember the email freshman year about the unique opportunity. As a junior, I had more flexibility to make it to the practices. Also, as a freshman, I was probably afraid of getting run out of the gym too. - Brandon Trautman

I responded to the email that was sent out at the beginning of the year and then had a meeting with Tim (Clark). Then went through tons of paper work and tons of tests through the team doctor, student health clinic and team trainer, to be finally cleared to play. - Sam Kube

I became a practice player because I wanted to be a part of a team again. I also know the girls' team is very good, so I wanted to be close to the action... and hopefully share in their success. - Kube

What does being a practice player mean?
We show up to practice and run the offensive and defensive schemes, strategies, and plays against JMU's team. - Boling
To learn to play basketball with the mindset of improving the team as well as playing the roles of the opponents' team. - Kim

It is a chance to help out my school, even if it is in a small way. - Dyke

Being on the practice team is a great opportunity and privilege. JMU has a strong tradition of success, and more importantly, by doing so the right way. It is an honor to be associated with such a program. Only a handful of guys on this campus can say they do what we do. We have an important responsibility to prepare the girls for their upcoming games. - Kusko

To me, it is a unique opportunity to assist our strong women's basketball program, see the ins and outs of a Division I team, and to play structured and competitive basketball at a high level. - Trautman
Being a practice player means doing all you can to make the girl you're guarding and the team as a whole better. - Kube

What is the best part of being a practice player?
Getting a behind-the-scenes view of what an NCAA practice is like, as well as getting to know the players' and coaches' personalities. - Boling

Getting to shoot on the main floor at the Convo. - Dyke

The best part of being a practice player is knowing you are making the girls better (or at least trying to). We try to play hard to emulate what the girls will see in a game-like situation. We have to alter our playing styles and learn new offenses and defenses on a weekly basis to give the most authentic look possible. This is a tough thing to do, but it is also what makes the job interesting and fun. - Kusko
I think one of the best parts for me is getting that inside look of a D-I basketball program. I have always loved college basketball. Everyone gets to see the games and the final result, but it is awesome to be a part of helping the team prepare for that throughout the week by running scout offense and defense. The full scrimmages we sometimes play with the practice guys vs. the girls are always fun and competitive. During last year's WNIT tournament, the atmosphere and energy at the practices were off the charts. They put in the work, and it showed during that thrilling run. For me, it was great to see all their efforts pay off in the postseason, and I was proud of their accomplishments. - Trautman
Not having to run sprints when the coaches say "get on the line." I have terrible memories from playing in high school from when coaches would get mad and yell "get on the line." Now it's nice to just be able to sit on the sideline and watch.  - Kube

What is the funniest thing that has happened in a practice?
Anything that comes out of Coach Brooks' mouth. - Boling

When Coach Brooks was making fun of one of the players who had some bad body odor at the time during a huddle. - Kim

To be honest, the practice atmosphere is normally pretty serious and "business-like." That is probably a large reason why the program has seen so much success. On occasion, Coach Brooks will crack a joke or two throughout practice, which will lighten the mood. - Kusko

I have definitely had my share of hideous air balls and bricks in practice when I go a little while without playing with the 28.5"(women's) ball. Hopefully that just helps them with their rebounding more. - Trautman

What is the best thing Coach Brooks has said to you?
That the team will benefit from me showing up to practice. - Boling

Thanks for coming out. I really appreciate what you do for my girls. - Kim

In a more general sense, I appreciate that Coach Brooks treats us like one of his own players if we start to slack off or make mistakes. He pushes us to be better, because if not, our presence is useless. Also, it is nice that Coach Brooks greets us both on and off the court. If I see him around campus, he will call me by name and greet me. This is a small thing, but it is encouraging as a practice player. - Kusko

Coach Brooks and the rest of the coaching staff always thank us for coming out. They appreciate our efforts to help the team and sacrificing our time. - Trautman

Who do you least like being paired up with?  Why?
Tarik Hislop.  She's funny, we have class together, and she has a great personality, but guarding her every day can be stressful, ha ha. - Boling
I least like being paired with Toia (Giggetts) because she is VERY physical in the paint and she scratches me a lot when I do rarely guard her. As a matter of fact, pretty much any forward or power forward because they will foul you whenever they guard you, and the sad thing is that the practice players cannot foul them back. - Kim

There is a close tie to whom I like to be paired up with the least. Being paired up with Tarik is always a tough task due to her offensive skill and savvy, as well as her strong defense. When you are matched with her, you know you are about to work hard on both ends of the floor. The other tough matchup is against Kirby (Burkholder). She is one of the best shooters I think I have ever seen. If you lay off of her for a split second, she will most likely sink the shot. - Kusko

They all have ways to beat you when you get paired up, but when you get matched up against Kirby or Precious (Hall), you can pretty much guarantee a couple 3-pointers right in your face. Also, Destiny (Jones) sets some of the strongest screens ever.- Trautman

Tarik.  She's way too fast for me. She made me realize that I'm really out of shape and can't keep up with a pure guard. Now I guard the 4 and 5 spots. - Kube

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