MUNCIE — Ball Gym is virtually silent as Tyce Rogers and Brendan Ottinger shuffle onto the court. Slowly. Very, very slowly.
It’s 5:20 a.m. on Friday. They are Burris boys basketball players, arriving for the team’s usual morning practice.
Rogers puts his bag on the ground and slumps, face first, onto the bleachers, clad in his University of North Carolina hoodie. It’s his favorite team.
“Go Tar Heels, baby,” he says, giving a weak, seemingly exhausted grin.
The Burris boys basketball team practices from 5:45 to 7:30 each morning, especially before the season starts. Once the season is underway, they’ll pepper in some afternoon or evening practices, but for the most part, the team is up well before dawn.
A few more players file in. Rogers starts putting himself together and looks up.
“Good morning, sunshines,” he calls out. Ottinger holds a switch and the basketball hoops from both sides of the gym descend.
Burris practices so early because Ball Gym is used for other events in the afternoon. The middle school uses it for practice so with nearly a dozen teams vying for time, getting in the gym early has its advantages.
“The seniors like having the fact that they get practice out of the way and have the afternoons to themselves,” Burris coach Joseph Anderson says. “We do drills to get the blood circulating, they’re used to it.”
It’s Anderson’s second year as head coach, and he has made getting up early a habit for the Owls. They’ll be practicing while their friends are still asleep under a mountain of covers in bed.
“Let’s go, fellas,” Anderson calls out at 5:28 as more players arrive and start stretching at center court. He turns on the scoreboard and sets the clock to 99 minutes. Players yawn as they walk around.
One of those players is Ryan Morey. He’s a senior who averaged 14.5 points per game last season, the top returning scorer. Anderson calls him the leader on the team, along with Rogers.
Morey says he’s a morning person and it shows. He’s got more energy than most of his teammates.
He tries to go to bed no later than 10 p.m. when he knows he has practice the next morning. He said he’d rather have practice in the morning because it leaves the entire afternoon open. This weekend, he’s traveling to Wisconsin to visit his sister in college, and would be missing practice if it was held in the afternoon.
Morey wakes up between 4:10 and 4:30 and grabs a breakfast burrito made with eggs and ham he put together the night before. He eats on his way to picking up Nick Baker and bringing him to practice. Morey and Rogers rotate picking up Baker, who’ll go to bed even earlier than Morey, at nine.
“It’s not too hard for me because I like being up early, but some of the guys drag,” Morey says. “It gets easier the more you do it.”
It’s 5:45. Warmups are finished and Burris begins running a three-man weave, a fast-paced drill that gets the body working, but isn’t physical and players don’t typically initiate contact with each other, so it isn’t hard on the body. Varsity players wear white jerseys while JV wears blue.
The two squads break off, each taking a half court as scrimmaging begins. At the start of one play, Rogers immediately steals the ball. He quickly knocks another pass away, then jumps a pass and intercepts the ball.
He’s also one of the sharpshooters on the team. Last season, he posted 9.5 points per game, and Anderson says he’s one of the outside threats Burris brings this season.
Last year, Burris finished 7-16, losing a tough game 57-54 to Wapahani in the postseason. Baker, Morey and Rogers return as the seniors to try to make a deeper postseason run.
At one point, freshman James Roysdon sneaks down the baseline where Baker finds him for an easy layup. Burris is running a switch drill, where players have to be able to switch between offense and defense at a moment’s notice. This time, Roysdon’s defender lost him.
He may be young, but Anderson says he expects Roysdon and Jackson Adamowicz to contribute this season.
At 6:14, Anderson calls for a water break. Players hustle off the court. Morey and Rogers are the first back on the court and immediately begin practicing free throws. Baker follows. He brought 11.4 points and nearly four rebounds per game last season.
“What does that tell you about those guys?” Anderson says. “Those two and Nick, they’re like the three amigos. They do everything together.”
It’s just 6:23, and Burris begins running a full-court press drill. Students around Delaware County are just now waking up, but Burris has been going hard for nearly 45 minutes. The varsity defense gives up a layup, Anderson isn’t pleased. Twenty pushups.
“Talk, talk,” he yells to his team, clapping his hands. “If we aren’t playing defense, we aren’t playing at all.”
Moments later, a Burris defender dives on the floor for a loose ball. He quickly picks himself up and it leads to a transition basket for the varsity.
But more turnovers from the varsity ensue, leading to more buckets on the other side. Assistant coach Michael White shakes his head.
“Gotta take care of the basketball,” White says. “It’s gotta be your bible.”
With the drill winding down, the varsity picks up the intensity. They’re trapping and stealing the ball, Morey converting layup after layup as the players waiting on the sideline start cheering, the black night sky streams through the 16 windows in the gym.
With the energy increasing, Morey is playing faster than anyone else.
“Ryan really sets the tone,” Anderson says. “I have to tell him sometimes to pull back. He wants to get into the weight room whenever he can, he doesn’t know when to stop.”
The team takes a second water break, and Anderson begins an instructional drill. Soon, the team has split into both sides of the court and are running the drill. At 7:08, there’s no noise except for Anderson and White’s voices, and the squeaking of shoes on the court.
Anderson says he wants to develop a winning mentality at Burris. The program hasn’t had a winning season since 2011-12, but he plans on changing that.
“Truth is, we have to change the culture,” Anderson says. “We have to have something to play for.”
The time is 7:15 and Anderson decides to wrap up practice early. It’s a luxury, as there’s still four minutes left on the game clock. He talks to them for a few minutes at mid-court before they break the huddle and start untying their shoes.
Even after that, he’s still coaching, yelling out to players to put on their sweatpants so they don’t get sick in the cold. At the time practice ended, it was a chilly 34 degrees outside.
“I’ve been doing this since for a while, so you get used to it after a while,” Baker says. “The last two years have been like this.”
The players will go shower, then get to class for the next eight hours. Some head to the Student Center at Ball State to grab some food. Baker heads to Algebra II, his first class on Friday, where he says his brain doesn’t always want to function because of the early start to the day.
It’s 7:24. Practice is finished. For most students, the day hasn’t even begun, but for the players, it’s well underway. Rogers is the final player to leave the gym, wearing the same light blue hoodie.
The sun hasn’t risen yet.
Contact prep sports reporter David Polaski at (765) 213-5848. Follow him on Twitter @DavidPolaskiTSP.