Week off a benefit for Mesa men’s team

MESA STATE COACH JIM HEAPS HAD PLENTY of time to observe his team the past couple of weeks, when the Mavs didn’t play any games. Mesa used the practice time to fine-tune some things on offense.

It’s no secret that basketball coaches love practice. Games? Well, those are for the players.

Jim Heaps has been in heaven the past two weeks. Not a game on the schedule for 12 whole days.

“It was a good, long stretch of practices where we can fine-tune stuff. I feel good about it, but you don’t know until you test yourself against somebody else,” the Mesa State College men’s basketball coach said. “We feel like we know what we’re doing, but until you suit it up and go, it’s hard to tell.”

The Mavericks (3-2) open the RMAC season at home Friday night against the East Division, starting with Colorado School of Mines. Sunday at noon, the Mavericks play Colorado Christian.

Not only did the week off help the Mavericks break down their game, it gave the players time to prepare for final exams, which wrap up today. Heaps gave them Saturday and Sunday off just for that purpose, and there’s the added bonus of not having to travel during finals week.

“That was what was really nice about having this last weekend off. Those kids had two full days to prepare, get papers out of the way without staying up all night trying to get stuff done,” he said.

It had a plus side for Heaps, too.

“I got to watch a lot of basketball,” he said. Heaps checked out the Warrior Challenge boys tournament last weekend and also got to watch his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, play for Grand Junction High School.

“I’ll take those opportunities anytime I can get them,” he said. “I don’t get to do that very often, usually I can only see half of (Elizabeth’s games), and I never get to watch the boys game.”

Heaps had a plan of attack for the long layoff, and liked the way it came together.

“We wanted to get more consistent in our offensive execution,” he said. “I think in the Thanksgiving tournament, our defense made a lot of strides, we got a lot better. We want to keep building on that, but offense was our focus, develop some different sets and expand on what we’re doing.”

The break allowed the Mavericks to heal some aches and pains and gave freshman center Michael Bear some time to heal and adjust to playing with a splint on his left hand.

Bear broke his left pinkie finger the week before the Thanksgiving tournament. He’ll be able to play this weekend with a splint.

“I tried to get him to cut it off,” Heaps said, laughing.

Trevor Wikre cut off his right pinkie in order to finish the football season this fall after badly dislocating the finger, a story that drew national attention.

“He wouldn’t go for it, because he’s able to play with (the injury),” Heaps said. “He said he’d always shoot to the left if he didn’t have it.”

The start of the conference season comes quickly, and Heaps said it’s going to be a long, hard fight.

“I think Metro is probably a little bit better than anybody else in the East and Fort Lewis is a little better than everybody in the West,” he said. “Then you take the other 12 of us and throw us out there and it’s dead even.

“I’ve watched film, looked at stats, comparative scores and it’s hard to tell. You look at it and think we could have Metro winning the East, Fort Lewis winning the West and have a six-way tie for the third seed.

“That last weekend, you could go from third to out of the tournament, it could be that close.”


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