With over half its roster being new, the men’s basketball team is working to catch up on practice and build camaraderie both on and off the court.
The team has eight players that are either freshmen or transfers and three redshirts that will play for the first time this season. Senior Stanley Umude said practices started differently this year.
The team is working on familiarizing everyone with the team’s systems and getting them comfortable with its structure.
“(We’re) working on trying to see where everyone’s gonna fit in position-wise,” Umude said. “It’s been a lot of instruction, with coach (Todd) Lee really having to teach us a lot about assets and whatnot, but it’s been good.”
One of the biggest challenges to the team, senior Ty Chisom said, was COVID-19. The pandemic caused members to miss out on their summer workouts, as well as slowing down progress during practices.
“There’s some days where guys are out for a week, so the biggest challenge for me is not having everybody in 24/7,” Chisom said.
Despite the difficulties caused by COVID-19, Chisom said it has also allowed players to spend more time around each other and become closer as a team.
Umude said everyone on the team is getting along. While not at practice, members have been able to hang out, play video games, and watch NBA games, which Umude said allows members to get to know each other a little bit more.
“We’ve been hanging out all together. It’s not really clique-y, so our team chemistry is good right now,” Umude said.
Xavier Fuller, a junior and transfer from Scottsdale Community College, said the pandemic has made it so that the team has to rush to get caught up on practice and figure out plays and calls, although coaches and returning players are doing a good job leading the team to where it needs to be.
The team is moving quickly, Fuller said, which is helped by the camaraderie the team has been able to develop off-court.
“We hit it off pretty early, and I think we’re all aware that we needed to do that because the season’s coming up. It’s pretty much go-time now, so I think they’re doing a good job,” Fuller said.
Outside of pandemic-related problems, Freshman Edin Smjecanin said usually when a player joins a new team they are in the minority, and they have a lot of guys to look up to and model after, though this time, almost everyone is on equal footing.
“Everyone’s sort of figuring it out as we go. I think that all the guys that are returning are doing a good job of helping us out and easing this process for us,” Smjecanin said.
No one has ever had a season during a pandemic before, Smjecanin said, so he hopes the team will stay healthy and be able to play the games it’s allotted.
Smjecanin said the team has a bright future as a young squad loaded with talent. He said this fact is what sets the team apart from other teams, and that it will help the team prepare for future seasons.
“We’re going to have a lot of young guys moving up next year,” Smjecanin said. “For us, it’s important to lay the foundation for the next year and the year after and do as good as we can this season and lay the path out for years to come.”