As the Idaho State men’s basketball team went through a drill during its first summer practice on Thursday, coach Joe O’Brien joked that the Bengals should be wearing name tags.

    Normally, making such a comment would be cause for concern. This time, it wasn’t a big deal because of when it was said.

    The date was Aug. 5. The Bengals’ first game of the 2010-11 season at Colorado is on Nov. 12, more than three months away. Most college basketball teams, Colorado included, won’t practice until October.

    So it wasn’t a big deal that O’Brien and so many new Bengals were starting from the beginning. They were allowed to start practice in August because of their international trip to Vancouver, British Columbia later this month. They’ve got plenty of time to get to where they want to be.

    “We’ve got a lot of new guys in, so we have to start with the basics,” said junior guard Chase Grabau, who is one of the new players. “We’re getting everyone accustomed to the system and getting everyone who’s not ready for Division I basketball to be ready for Division I basketball. It keeps getting better every day.”

    Taking these Bengals to Canada will be one of O’Brien’s best decisions as the Idaho State coach.

    The reasons are obvious. This team doesn’t have enough returning players to form a full basketball team. Broderick Gilchrest, Mike Lacey, Sherrod Baldwin and Deividas Busma are the only current Bengals who have played Division I basketball before, with the rest of the roster coming from junior colleges or high schools.

    That makes it crucial for everyone to be on the same page when the season begins. What better way to accomplish that goal than to get extra practices, exhibition games and a road trip?

    “We’ve got a head start on other teams,” Gilchrest said. “We get the chance to take a trip and play in game-type situations. We’ll get a feel for each other and learn what works for who. Going to Canada is a fun trip with a chance to compete early.”

    Getting 10 days in Reed Gym to get to know the system before they head northwest to Vancouver doesn’t hurt either. Last October, I saw the Bengals doing many of the same drills they’re doing now.

    This year, when the Bengals reach October and every team is allowed to practice, they’ll already know what they can do against real competition and have had two months to think about how they can improve.

    “We want to see if guys can remember what we’ve practiced for 10 days,” O’Brien said. “When we get to Oct. 15 and start practice, we won’t have to do all the teaching that goes on in that first week of practice. It’s being done for the most part right now.”

    It won’t be done again at Idaho State until at least 2014 because of NCAA rules that restrict a team to one international trip every four years. That shouldn’t be a problem as long as O’Brien sticks to his vow to never have to bring in eight new players at a time again.

    No matter what the Bengals do in their three games in Canada, O’Brien and his staff found a way to turn what could have been a rough situation into a beneficial one. Idaho State could have been behind their conference rivals because of their youth and now the Bengals will be ahead.

    That’s the kind of thinking that builds programs.