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New-look Robert Morris a work in progress

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

Robert Morris men's basketball coach Andy Toole has a new contract and a new office. Also, half of his 12 scholarship players are new, which helps explain why Toole lauded the NCAA's decision to add 10 extra days of preseason practices.

“I'm very thankful for the early practice start because we needed as much time as we could possibly get,” he said. “We're kind of going through a learning process.”

If practice started in mid-October as usual, “we'd be in real trouble,” he said last week.

On Monday, Toole got a first glimpse of his squad in a more competitive environment. The Colonials beat Division II Cal (Pa.), 64-58, in a closely contested exhibition game at Sewall Center. RMU's lead at the end was its largest. Toole offered a mixed review.

“This will be an invaluable amount of film we can watch, and hopefully continue to grab guys' attention about what you have to do to be successful at the Division I level,” he said. “With six new guys, I thought some of them did well; some of them didn't do as well. There are certain things I liked that we did and a lot we have to get better at.”

A sparse crowd attended, nothing remotely like the Colonials' last home appearance. That was in March, a memorable 59-57 win over Kentucky in the first round of the NIT inside a deafening, overstuffed gym.

That game is now chiseled into university lore, a nationally televised, court-storming upset of a hallowed program. The Colonials embraced the spotlight and their role as appealing underdogs, earning considerable attention.

In May, after flirting with a coaching vacancy at Siena, Toole got a three-year contract extension through 2018. Just last week, he and his staff moved into a more stylish office.

But there are more immediate concerns for Toole, whose teams are 68-36 since he took over for Mike Rice in 2010. One is replacing point guard Velton Jones, the school career leader in starts and games, and No. 2 in assists. Senior Anthony Myers-Pate, who started eight games at the position last year, will take over. He was steady, if unspectacular, against Cal.

“I felt OK,” he said. “I felt like I've got to do more.”

One of the newcomers, freshman Kavon Stewart, shared the point with Myers-Pate and scored 10 points in 19 minutes. Guard Desjuan Newton, a junior college transfer, had 10 points, and freshman forward Jeremiah Worthem grabbed 10 rebounds.

But there was consensus that attention to detail and communication needs considerable work.

“More on defense,” said senior forward Mike McFadden, who scored 18 points. “I don't think the new guys understand how important it is to communicate on every situation.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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