With the college basketball season right around the corner, teams are working hard to get the pieces in place to maximize success.
The combination of returning players, incoming freshmen and transfers can be both a big positive and a big challenge.
Just as with the UVU men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Selected players and the head coaches of both Wolverine squads participated in the WAC Basketball Preview teleconference on Wednesday and talked about how the teams are coming together.
“Our guys have done a great job doing as much as possible playing on their own in limited situations,” UVU men’s head basketball coach Mark Madsen said. “Lately, with practice, I think the players get to know each other better and better. I’m seeing that manifest now in the way they are playing with each other.”
The Wolverine men’s squad was hit hard by graduation and transfers, resulting in just three returners. That means finding the right cohesion is an ongoing process.
“Obviously it has been a challenge,” Madsen said. “In the past, we would get all 15 or 20 together to go bowling or get pizza. This year we have to be much more careful with the COVID-19 pandemic. The guys have been grinding on the court and we’ve been going hard. But as they come together on the court, they are having more fun together. As you mesh in that way, the game slows down, more great basketball plays are made and ultimately guys have more fun through the process.”
Senior transfer Evan Cole, who arrived in Orem after playing previously at Georgia Tech, said UVU’s leaders have to get everyone on the same page.
“Having that many guys come in, it’s going to take leadership,” Cole said. “I think we have a lot of great leaders on this team. Hanging with each other off the court is just as important as being on the court together. We’ve all been around each other since the summer, so we’re really getting to know each other and our tendencies on the court. I think we’re going to be ready. I think we meshed really quick, honestly.”
The Wolverine women’s squad didn’t have as much turnover with six returners but it also knows that being a cohesive unit will be critical.
“Cohesion is a huge part of what we are doing,” UVU women’s head basketball coach Dan Nielson said. “I think that this year our team won’t have a 18 or 20-point scorer but if things go as I think they will, we will have five or six people averaging between nine and 13 points. Then it is hard to key on one player. Basketball-wise, we’re seeing that come together and everyone is bought in.”
Junior center Josie Williams said that the hope is that even though it’s been a strange year the team has come through stronger.
“Even though this year has been unpredictable and different, cohesion and culture-wise I think we have come together nicely,” Williams said. “We have some in-state players that I’ve previously known, some I played against in high school, and then we have some out of state players and the returners. We all have a level of respect for each other with the common goals that the coaches have set. I think we are all on the same page and ready to do whatever it takes to reach those goals.”
Both teams have put together some specific activities to encourage the players to interact and build relationships.
The men’s team, for example, was headed for paintballing on Wednesday.
“We’re going to split into teams and go have some fun,” Madsen said.
Cole grinned as he talked about battling against Madsen.
“It’s going to be really competitive,” Cole said. “I’m coming for Coach Madsen. If I see him out there, I’m definitely trying to go for him.”
The goal for both teams is to be able to go deeper on the bench in 2020-21.
“Depth was a problem last year,” Madsen said. “We didn’t have it when we needed it. This year we have depth and competition at every position. Ultimately that brings out the best in every single player. You have to have capable bodies ready to step up when their name is called.”
Nielson added: “Our goal when we got here was to create depth so we are not relying on just one or two players. To do that, you obviously have to have talent but you also have to have a group that buys into the team-first mentality.”
UVU men’s basketball is set to get the season underway on Nov. 25 at Stanford, while the women’s hoops team hasn’t yet officially announced its preseason schedule.