College coaches — by definition — are sticklers for details.
Control freaks, even.
They like their players to follow a strict schedule: Practice here. Classes during this block of time. Dinner begins here. Sleep at this time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted those carefully made plans.
Utah Valley men’s basketball coach Mark Madsen has had very little live interaction with his players since the season ended in March at the aborted Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
“From a basketball standpoint, we have players who live in different geographic regions,” Madsen said. “They don’t always have access to courts or a weight room, so we’re trying to get as much done as we can. Some guys are working out in their driveway, and that’s OK. We’re encouraging guys to work on skill development, get shots up and keep working on their bodies. We hope we get good news in the short to medium term.”
That good news would be something about allowing the team to get together for summer workouts. Word coming from the NCAA is that the organization will allow teams to start spending eight hours a week with the staff beginning June 1.
Madsen and his coaching staff – which remains intact – can’t wait to get back in the lab again.
“Everyone is coming back,” Madsen said. “I was really happy with my staff last season. We’re all back and we’re excited.”
The Wolverines finished 11-19 overall in Year 1 with a 5-10 WAC mark. They were the No. 6 seed headed into the WAC Tournament, which was cancelled before UVU could play No. 3 seed Seattle U. Madsen said he and his staff immediately jumped into recruiting.
The Wolverines graduated four seniors, including starting guard T.J. Washington (12.4 points, 4.6 assists per game) along with Emmanuel Okojapoke (2.7 blocks per game), Brandon Morley and Bradley Kitchen. Four players opted to jump into the transfer portal: Forward Isaiah White (USC) and guards Ege Havsa (Rice), Casdon Jardine (Hawaii) and Jacob Heese.
Madsen said difference from Year 1 to Year 2 in putting together a roster is that he and his staff have had plenty of time to do their due diligence.
“We could start recruiting guys at the beginning of last summer for 2020,” he said. “We’ve had more time to build relationships and evaluate players for the past eight to ten months. That definitely makes a difference when it comes time for players to sign.”
This spring, UVU signed five players including two – shooting guard Colby Leifson and point guard Blaze Nield – previously at BYU.
“Colby has a gift,” Madsen said. “I joke with him that he’s the mini version of Steph Curry. He made 10 of 11 from the 3-point line in high school. Blaze is a true point guard. If you watch his clips, he’s a big strong, athletic player who can pass the ball. And he’s not just looking to pass. He’s got good shooting numbers and on defense he’s a deflection machine.”
Another former local player, Westlake’s Asa McCord, transferred after a strong year at Salt Lake Community College where he averaged 11.5 points and 8.3 rebounds for a balanced team.
“He’s a really good player,” Madsen said. “He’s one of the top rebounders at his position in junior college. He really has a knack for the ball and is a good all-around athlete.”
Looking into the transfer portal, Madsen was able to collect 6-10 graduate transfer Evan Cole (Georgia Tech). Two other junior college players – 6-4 guard Le’Tre Darthard and 6-9 forward Trey Farrer – will also join the Wolverines.
Madsen’s top returning player is senior guard Brandon Averette, who averaged 12.8 points and three assists per game in 2019-20.
UVU has a few more spots to fill on the roster so Madsen and his staff will remain active in recruiting.
“We’ve got a few scholarships left and we have a few offers out,” Madsen said. “We’ll continue to recruit. Every player’s time frame is different. Some commit right away, others are more comfortable waiting until June or July. There are always situations and opportunities that come up late.”
Madsen said he learned a number of important lessons during Year 1 in Orem.
“The No. 1 important thing I learned was to always be teaching,” he said. “A college coach is a teacher. We came in trying to do that and we realized at the end of the season we emphasize that even more. We do that through videos, walk-throughs, players teaching players and coaches teaching players.
“As a staff, we made a list of dozens of individual skills and teaching points with repetition throughout the year. The margin of victory in any sport is very narrow. The more effectively you teach, the more effectively you create good habits. Those good habits help in those margins.”