What the 2020-21 college basketball season will look like remains a big question mark. It certainly may not start on time, if it begins it all, and it could very likely be played without any fans in the stands.
What sidelines will look like when the UConn men’s basketball team plays, however, is not in doubt. Head coach Dan Hurley isn’t likely to change.
“Whatever environment we play in together, it’s going to be really intense,” UConn forward Isaiah Whaley said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters. “Hurley, it don’t matter if he’s playing in front of a million people or zero people, he’s still going to be one of the loudest, most intense people out there. We’re all going to feed off his energy.”
The Huskies, perhaps as much as any team in the nation, are anxious to play. Heading into Hurley’s third season, UConn has hopes of taking a major step back toward the nation’s elite.
If that step is taken without fans in the Gampel Pavilion and XL Center seats, it will of course be disappointing for the players.
“It’s going to be real difficult if we don’t play with fans. Just because our fans are crazy and really energetic,” UConn forward Tyler Polley said. “Especially this being our first year in the Big East, I know fans are super hyped and super excited.”
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, issued a statement Monday that his staff has “developed and studied contingency plans for alternatives to the scheduled Nov. 10 start date.”
Gavitt, son of the Big East founder and a longtime executive in the league as well, said that by “mid-September” the NCAA hopes to provide answers as to whether the season and practice will start on time.
Until then, teams like UConn are holding workouts that may or may not be leading up to a normal season of play.
“Coach Hurley calls it ‘Dan Hurley basketball camp.’ We’re doing a whole bunch of fundamental stuff,” Whaley said.
According to some of the players, the Huskies are embracing their time together, albeit by eschewing most actual embraces as they try to abide by COVID-19 restrictions.
“The spirit of the team has been great. We’ve just been getting our work in together,” Polley said. “Getting on the court feels amazing after missing so many months together.”
The UConn campus is getting back to normal, at least in part these days. For much of the summer, a few UConn athletes were among the very few people walking the streets of Storrs. Now that many students have joined them, it’s an odd feeling for the Huskies.
It’s a welcome one, however, as they see it as perhaps a sign that the season really is approaching.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s been crazy to see students,” Polley said. “It’s kind of surreal after being on campus for so long and not seeing people around for months. It is weird but I enjoy it. It’s a sign of things getting back to normal.”
A somber mood may be greeting many people in various activities these days, but the Huskies actually seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they navigate a pandemic and prepare for the season.
The players give Hurley much of the credit for focusing extensively on team chemistry and “culture” in an effort to try and end an NCAA Tournament dry spell that has lasted more than four years.
It’s a contrast to the preseason that Whaley, Polley and Josh Carlton experienced in their first season at UConn.
“Our freshmen year, there was like a dark mood, like an unsettling mood,” Whaley said. “You didn’t know if the coach was going to stay or what was going to happen. Nobody knew what was going to happen.”
Well, no one knows what’s going to happen anywhere else in the country this season so the Huskies are at least on a level playing field this time.