There's only so much you can learn about a college basketball team in July.
But with a few weeks of summer workouts in the books, Fordham head coach Tom Pecora is getting an early look at his new team.
"It's good, but it's July," a cautious Pecora said when asked about his team's mindset. "You want to keep them up as you go through the battles."
Say what you want about the 2013-14 season—Fordham finished 10-21 and lost its last eight regular season games—the one thing you can't overlook is the way the Rams closed out the season.
Down the stretch, Fordham was a tough out. In the final week of the regular season, the Rams nearly pulled off upsets against La Salle and George Washington.
In the Atlantic 10 tournament, Fordham beat George Mason in the play-in game. The next day, the Rams trailed Dayton by 19 at the half, but cut the lead to five in the second half. Two weeks later, Dayton found itself in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
It might not have been evident in the final standings, but Pecora is still talking about the character his players showed when the season appeared to be lost.
"We talk to them about this all the time," he said. "When adversity strikes, the true man comes out.
"One of the most impressive things about the team last year was that they were still battling at the end of the year. We lost some really tough games. A lot of kids would have just said 'let's get this over with, go out today and lose and don't worry about it.' They went in with the mindset that 'we're going to win this tournament.'
"They continued to compete. Their resilience was impressive to me. They never quit."
By all accounts—what you see on paper and in person—2014-15 should be a much different season for the Rams.
The influx of talent has been well documented. Case in point: last Tuesday's workout at the Rose Hill Gym.
Ryan Canty and Eric Paschall were both dealing with minor back pain. (Pecora said they were held out of the workout as a precaution, and both will be fine.)
Even though two of the Rams' best players were on the sideline, the workout and drills continued. In past years, if two top players were out, the level of competition would have suffered.
"We were still able to have a very competitive practice without two of our more talented players on the floor," Pecora said. "The depth seems to be greater."
Even though it's only the middle of the summer, compelling battles at every position have emerged.
"Nothing's written in stone here," Pecora said. "It doesn't matter what you did last year. You have to go out and you have to compete for minutes. If someone new here is outplaying you, they're going to get rewarded. You're only going to get what you deserve."
As much attention as the newcomers have gotten, Pecora has a special message for his returning players.
"I spoke to a number of the veterans about getting consistent...about being teases," he said.
"They have an immense amount of talent. Now they have to be able to compete at the highest level they're capable of on a day-to-day basis. That will elevate us.
"I think competition drives that."
"These veteran guys want to win," Pecora added. "You can see it in their eyes.
"They came here to help us turn this thing around. They want this to be the year, so they can say they were part of us turning this around.
"And when we turn it around, they're going to be [a part of it] because they made a commitment to this university and to the program."
So much of what Pecora talks about comes down to effort. That's something the coaching staff preaches to its players every day.
"Playing hard every time you walk on the court is a skill, just like shooting and dribbling and passing and things like that," Pecora said. "And it's a skill you can get better at. We continue to push them to do that."
While he likes what he's seen so far, Pecora knows the regular season is still months away. He'll certainly learn more when Fordham travels to Canada for a two-week foreign tour in late August.
"It's a little early to really say 'here's somebody who I think over the course of things is going to be able to do it,'" Pecora said when asked a question about individual players who may have an impact. "That's why this Canadian tour is so important for us. We'll see how they compete and how they react when the lights go on."
Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand. Follow him on Twitter @CFCostello.
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