BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
This is a new drill for Xavier:
Obi Harris and Reggie Butler, both 6-foot-10 centers, stand in the paint near the basket while walk-ons on either side drive toward the hoop. Harris and Butler jump and swat away shots, first with the right hand, then the left.
It is a drill Skip Prosser used when he was a high school coach in Wheeling, W. Va.
"In the A-10 stats, we were near the top in everything except opponents' field goal percentage," Prosser said. "One of the ways you lower that is by blocking a few shots."
XU was ranked ninth of 12 teams in the league with opponents shooting 44.7 percent.
The Musketeers blocked 80 shots last season; two players in the Atlantic 10 Conference had more. The injured Darnell Williams led XU with 25. Players returning this season totaled just 29.
While Brian Grant blocked 127 shots in his career and became a shot-blocking threat, Xavier hasn't had a classic shot blocker since Aaron Williams (1989-93). He holds school records for career blocks (197) and blocks in a season (57).
"He was a great shot blocker the minute he walked on our campus," Prosser said.
Butler, a sophomore, is the bigger of XU's two inside men, weighing 255 pounds. Harris, a junior, is 35 pounds lighter. He's quicker with longer arms. Both have been imposing figures at times during practice.
"Shot blocking is not as easy as it seems," said Harris, who averaged four blocks a game last season at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College. "It's all about timing. The biggest thing is you want to block every shot, but you have to discipline yourself not to. Sometimes it's better to cut off the baseline than block the shot.
"The biggest thing for me is to try to stay out of foul trouble, as well. I'm just trying to refine those skills."
Said Butler: "In high school it's a little bit different because you're just taller than everybody. But I feel I can be a good (shot blocker). You have to work on timing, being the second person off the floor, and just wanting to go after every shot. Those are the two main things."
The best news concerning the new Cintas Center -- aside from it being on schedule to open in May 2000 -- is that a practice gym will be part of the facility.
A practice gym was part of the original plan for the future home of Xavier basketball, but it was dropped last December because of costs. However, the board of trustees approved in October the reinstatement of the practice gym.
Xavier added a fourth walk-on this week. Vinny Catarella, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard from Hamburg, N.Y., started practicing on Thursday.