College hoops preview (we hope)

MSR file photo C. Vivian Stringer

College basketball is set to start as early as next week, but many schools still don’t have their 2020-21 season schedules in place. “We are supposed to have games,” admitted Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer during last week’s Big Ten WBB virtual media day. “But so many things have been happening. All of us are shaking our heads and don’t know.”

Minnesota’s 2020-21 schedule has yet been finalized. “We’ve made it through this point,” Coach Lindsay Whalen said. “We are looking forward to the season, whatever that looks like. We’re thrilled that we are practicing.”

Due to life these days amidst a pandemic, the MSR recently attended several media days for the first time without leaving home, including the Big East and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), one of the nation’s top HBCU conferences that is celebrating its 50th year.

Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said that the conference “will do our level best to present a season.”

Although he hasn’t yet played a college game, Howard 6’-11” freshman Makur Maker was the rave of this year’s MEAC joint MBB/WBB media day last month. He is the first five-star recruit to commit to an HBCU and is the only freshman on the all-league preseason first team.

“Maker coming into the league is a game-changer for the conference and basketball,” noted Delaware State MBB Coach Erik Skeeters.

Howard Coach Kenneth Blakeney, whose Bisons are picked to finish third, simply pointed out, “We’re a team coming off a 4-29 season. I don’t think the expectations are realistic. We have a young team of guys with a lot of potential and a lot of talent, but they never done it [at the collegiate level].”

Sports nonetheless are remarkably different these days due to COVID-19. “The number-one opponent in 2020-21 is COVID-19,” declared South Carolina State MBB Coach Murray Garvin.

Stringer reaffirmed that she, her coaches and her players had to quickly adjust to new routines due to health and safety concerns. “There’s few touching,” she explained. “I like to hug our players, but we stand at a distance. It seems so cold.

“We didn’t have a summer,” continued Stringer on the normal off-season of individual and small group skill development work that was put on hold due to the pandemic. Added to this, the players’ normal campus life has been turned upside down due to mandatory social distancing and on-line classes. Their social life has been virtually nonexistent because few if any students are on campus.

The HOF coach sadly predicts this will eventually take a toll on the players. “We are going to see the effects [on] our young people. I feel bad for them.”

“It’s drawn us closer” as a team, said Georgetown WBB Coach James Howard on his team’s way of dealing with life in the age of COVID.

“I hope this is not the new normal,” added St. John MBB Coach Mike Anderson.
So far normalcy in sports is far from returning. The Ivy League last week was the first Division I conference to cancel all sports for the 2020-21 year. MEAC member Bethume-Cookman after its media day announced last month that the school was opting out of the 2020-21 athletic season because of the pandemic.

Bethume-Cookman AD Lynn Thompson summed up current concerns: “The sudden COVID spikes have raised a ton of eyebrows.”