Schedule still uncertain, hopeful Hens begin basketball practice
The University of Delaware men’s basketball team will begin practice Wednesday, not even knowing exactly when or if its season will start.
Such are the mandates and mysteries of college sports during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Blue Hens will get their body temperatures taken, slip on their masks inside the Carpenter Center and go to work for a 2020-21 season that still holds considerable promise, despite two major defections.
Justyn Mutts’ transfer to Virginia Tech and Nate Darling’s decision to turn pro means Delaware won’t be the shoo-in Colonial Athletic Association preseason favorite it was expected to be after a 22-11 finish last year. All five starters would have been back.
The Blue Hens still have considerable experience, led by fourth-year starting guards Kevin Anderson and Ryan Allen, along with postman Dylan Painter. They should still contend in what is likely to be a wide-open CAA title race.
The more pressing daily concern, as it will be and has been for all sports teams engaged in competition with COVID-19 in their midst, will be avoiding the virus.
The NCAA announced last month that the basketball season may not start until Nov. 25, two weeks later than originally planned. The CAA has not yet put out the league schedule, though it is expected soon.
Delaware hasn’t even finalized its nonconference slate, though home games with George Washington and Long Island University and visits to Delaware State and La Salle are planned.
Delaware is not selling season tickets this year and hasn’t announced how many, if any, fans will be permitted to attend home games.
Even after games are locked in and a schedule started, few would be surprised if there are not interruptions and adjustments along the way.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a season starting November 25th,” said fifth-year head coach Martin Ingelsby. “What it’s gonna look like, I wish I knew. But we’re excited to get going.”
Delaware players were together for summer drills and recent strength and conditioning workouts and group sessions on the court. Now comes the full-fledged work, and it will be done with proper COVID protocols.
Players have to answer various health questions and have their temperatures checked before they practice every day. All play will be done wearing masks.
“The only time you can take your mask off is to get a drink of water,” Ingelsby said.
Even locker-room use is limited to just part of the team at a time.
“Day by day, guys have to understand the responsibility they have to observe these protocols and wear their mask,” said Ingelsby. “We’ve experienced it, we’ve kind of been in it, so they understand the importance of it. We were doing skill work this summer so they had a run through of what it looks like and how it feels.”
All UD student-athletes are screened every two weeks. That will increase to once a week soon for the basketball players and then three times a week near the start of the season, Ingelsby said.
“We’ve gotta be flexible and nimble through this season,” Ingelsby said. “Nobody knows what it’s gonna look like.”
Anderson was third-team All-CAA last year after averaging 11.6 points per game to rank 19th in the CAA. He was also fifth in assists (3.8), 11th in steals (1.3) and 12th in field-goal percentage (48.6).
Allen, the CAA Rookie of the Year as a freshman in 2017-18, is coming off the least productive of his three UD seasons. But he is still one of the Blue Hens’ all-time best, with 1,211 career points (19th on the UD chart) and 212 career 3-pointers (fourth all-time). He has career shooting percentages of 36.2 on 3-pointers and 39.8 overall.
“The most important thing for them is just their leadership,” Ingelsby said. “They know our system. They know what we do better than anybody. We just need those guys to drive the bus for us heading into this season. They’re the two most experienced guards in our league. Obviously, with some of the firepower we lost from an offensive standpoint, we need those guys to score the basketball and stay healthy.”
Painter, who averaged 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last year, will likely have to increase his production with Mutts and Collin Goss gone.
Who steps up beyond those three will likely determine how the Blue Hens do.
Delaware is hoping for increased production from Johnny McCoy after he showed flashes while averaging nearly 14 minutes per game in a reserve role as a freshman last year. The 6-9, 235-pound Aleks Novakovich has his best chance yet to demonstrate his dual abilities as an outside shooter and force around the basket.
“We have depth. I like the pieces,” said Ingelsby, who also views Ebby Asamoah as a defensive stopper and North Carolina Central transfer Reggie Gardner as a versatile veteran guard.
Delaware is awaiting NCAA eligibility waiver requests for transfers Logan Curtis, a guard from East Carolina, and Anthony Ochefu, a forward from Stony Brook. Having those approved would be beneficial.
“At this time in years past,” Ingelsby said, “you really have a good feel for your team. I’m excited to learn about our team. Who are we going to count on? We’re investing in some younger guys and what they can give us and how do we play?”
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