The University of Maine men’s basketball team will begin formal practices for the 2020-2021 season Thursday, but beyond that lies plenty of uncertainty as to when the Black Bears will play a game.
The NCAA Division I Council has designated Nov. 25 as the first contest date, but schedules for most teams are hard to find as basketball programs and conferences around the country wait out the continuing impact of COVID-19 on virtually all aspects of life.
“It’s really up in the air,” UMaine coach Richard Barron said. “It’s so hard to predict the next couple of days much less where we’ll be six weeks from now. Certainly it’s our hope that we’re playing and as a team we’ll do everything to be prepared for what we hope will be an eventuality.
Barron said game plans remain on hold until all the different constituencies involved have been able to make their decisions.
UMaine and other Division I teams on Tuesday completed an NCAA-approved transition practice phase between out-of-season activities and preseason practices. Players participated in strength and conditioning, sport-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours per week — with an eight-hour limit on skill instruction.
Among the COVID-19 safety measures adopted by the Black Bears is the use of facemasks throughout practices, even during scrimmages.
“We wear them the whole time, unless you’re away from other people and are getting a drink,” said point guard Adefolalrin “Fofo” Adetogun, one of seven newcomers on the Black Bears’ 18-player roster.
“We keep a lot of masks on the sidelines because a lot of the guys are using the disposable masks instead of the cloth ones because the cloth ones get so heavy because they hold a lot of water.”
Adetogun said the players have adjusted to wearing the face coverings and how they joke that they might be in better shape as a result of doing so.
NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams were allowed to begin formal preseason practices Wednesday, but it is one of two days (along with Sunday) the Black Bears take off from practice each week so their initial practice is set for Thursday.
UMaine graduated two All-America East performers in forward Andrew Fleming and guard Sergio El Darwich, but captains Nedekjo Prijovic, Solomon Iluyomade and Stephane Ingo lead a cast of 11 returning players who are working to mesh with the newest team members.
“We’re definitely a much deeper team, and I think that’s a good problem to have,” said Ingo, a 6-foot-9-inch redshirt sophomore forward who late last season emerged as one of America East’s more promising big men. “We’re trying to use this moment not to think about when our next game is, but really to get to know each other and be on the same page and build that camaraderie we’re going to need once things are finalized.”
Barron divided the group into three, six-player units during the early workouts and said that allowed more time for teaching and development.
“I like the depth we have in practice, the competitiveness in practice,” he said. “It’s a lot of guys to manage but I like how hard they get after it.”
UMaine hopes to build on last winter’s 9-22 finish that produced the program’s most victories in a season since the Black Bears went 13-19 during the 2012-2013 campaign.
That’s assuming there’s a schedule to be played.
“The guys are handling it well, but there are no guarantees in life, period,” Barron said. “As much as we want to compete and play, there’s also some people that are in much more dire situations because of the pandemic.
“I think we’ll get through this but we’re all going to have to share in being uncomfortable for a while. Maintaining the right perspective is important for our players and I believe they’re doing that.”