ALBANY — Colleen Mullen put it best.
“We’re back,” the UAlbany women’s basketball head coach said after her team’s workout Wednesday at SEFCU Arena. “Kind of.”
Both UAlbany basketball teams, in limited fashion, practiced Wednesday on the first day Division I squads were allowed. Using each of the three courts that run parallel to each other to allow for social-distancing, and with all players and coaches wearing masks, both sets of Great Danes conducted practices with no contact.
“Definitely different than what we’re accustomed to this time of year, so we need to make the most of it,” men’s basketball head coach Will Brown said prior to his team’s workout. “I think the kids will probably enjoy it because there will be more offensive stuff than we would normally do this early because we can do a lot more offensive stuff without contact than we can defensively.”
Instead of traditional 5-on-5 work, both teams utilized 5-on-0 sessions to work on offensive and defensive principles.
“It’s interesting and fun, to say the least,” Mullen said. “It’s been difficult because we’ve had to really reinvent the wheel and rethink how we do things.”
Earlier this year, all sports contests for UAlbany fall teams were postponed until next spring because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Formal offseason workouts were originally scheduled to start for all sports on Aug. 31, but UAlbany delayed that start a week because of concern over large off-campus gatherings that occurred during the final weekend of August. After each of the school’s athletic programs started activities on Sept. 7 with safety precautions in place, UAlbany “paused” all athletic activity on Sept. 11 because of a “very concerning spike” in COVID-19 cases among students, including “clusters . . . identified within athletics and in off-campus student housing.”
In the end, UAlbany halted athletics-related activities for 24 days before restarting Oct. 5 with strength and conditioning activities, and virtual team meetings. While full-contact, normal practices won’t start for the UAlbany basketball teams until Nov. 2, Wednesday’s workouts represented another step taken toward a return to competition expected in late November.
College basketball teams are able to start playing games on Nov. 25, but Brown and Mullen said their respective teams won’t play until at least a few days later than that.
“No shot,” Brown said of his Great Danes playing on opening night. “I don’t think we’ll be ready.”
The America East Conference still has not released its schedule or a format for one. The same goes for a number of other conferences, which makes confirming non-conference schedules extra difficult.
“Our schedule changes daily,” Mullen said. “People drop us. We add people. We change our dates. Every day, we get a new email of somebody can’t play us or somebody wants to play us because [their] conference schedules have come out.”
Both UAlbany coaches expect scheduling uncertainty to continue into the season, too, as conferences and teams deal with positive coronavirus cases. Mullen said “there’s going to be a lot of pauses” once play starts, and Brown seconded that take.
“I think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be interruptions at some point in the season,” Brown said. “Hopefully, not too many. Hopefully, we’re not part of any.”
That certainty regarding future uncertainty, Brown said, will motivate his team to appreciate each day it gets on the court.
“We’re living in a world right now where you’ve got to value every day because what we do today, we might not be able to do tomorrow — and the majority of it is out of our control.”
The NCAA Division I Council announced Wednesday that all winter athletes competing during the 2020-21 season will receive an additional year of eligibility, an opportunity previously afforded to fall and spring athletes.
Brown and Mullen liked that move, with Mullen calling it a “great” decision and Brown saying it will remove doubt for a player considering redshirting the season because of the chance it could be derailed with a bevy of canceled games related to the pandemic.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of players and coaches to make some tough decisions,” Brown said.
The NCAA, though, also signaled it’ll move forward with a proposal likely to pass next year January that will extend the one-time transfer exception to all Division I athletes, allowing them to transfer without needing a waiver to avoid sitting out a year.
Brown and Mullen were less enthusiastic about that development.
“The transfer numbers are out of control, as it is, and now you’re basically going to have free agency,” Brown said.
If the change passes, Brown said he’d be more likely to want to recruit a transfer than a high school player since the former would have a greater incentive to stay with the program once he arrived. Mullen signaled agreement with that stance.
“High school players will barely get recruited,” Mullen said.
Currently, baseball, basketball, football and men’s ice hockey athletes are not eligible for the one-time transfer exception afforded to athletes in other sports.
Mullen said redshirt freshman guard Morgan Haney, who started seven games last season before tearing her right ACL, will miss the 2020-21 season after re-tearing her ACL during the rehabilitation process.
Redshirt senior Khepera Stokes and freshman Chay Hayes, each wearing a protective boot, also didn’t participate during Wednesday’s workout. Mullen only described their absences as resulting from “nagging injuries.”
Sophomores Grace Heeps and Fatima Lee, and junior Ellen Hahne — all transfers — practiced Wednesday, but Mullen said her program is still waiting to see if any NCAA waivers will be granted for them. Heeps is an East Greenbush native.
Each of the 15 players on the UAlbany men’s basketball team participated in Wednesday’s workout.