Basketball Teams Gearing Up
In two weeks, college basketball programs can begin formal practices for the 2020-21 season.
That much is known, by UO head coaches Dana Altman and Kelly Graves. Very little else is certain, as the Oregon basketball programs look ahead to playing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently the NCAA announced that play can begin on Nov. 25. When that news came, Altman said, his staff made a plan for the nine weeks prior to that date, mapping out how the Ducks would build up for the season.
Presumably it was in pencil. Because Altman is sure he'll need to use an eraser.
"I know in my heart that plan's gonna be tore up and rearranged probably every week," Altman said. "Maybe every other day, I don't know."
Practices can begin Oct. 14, and both UO programs have players back in town this week, taking online courses during the first week of the university's fall quarter. Graves plans to have his team practice on the first day possible, while Altman said his team's start may be delayed a bit more while players work themselves into shape.
Pandemic protocols denied players the chance to play 5-on-5 pick-up games over the summer. Formal workouts have been limited to small groups.
"We look great in 5-on-0," Graves said. "Our dry running is amazing. But we'll see when we go live. … I just don't know how we're going to operate on both ends of the floor."
Optimism is high for both programs. Both the UO men and women are coming off Pac-12 championship seasons, and the women added a conference tournament title before the pandemic cancelled the rest of the postseason.
Despite the loss of Pac-12 player of the year Payton Pritchard, Altman has a veteran group returning, thanks in part to some experienced transfers. The women's team lost top-10 WNBA draft picks Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally, but Graves and his staff signed a heralded recruiting class, and will be bolstered by veteran transfers Sedona Prince and Taylor Mikesell.
"I think we've got as much talent if not more than we've ever had in the gym," Graves said.
Given that it is such a young group, the 2020-21 women's team has some shades of the 2016-17 team, when Ionescu, Hebard and five other freshmen enrolled. Graves said he's looking back at practice plans from that season to review how he got that group up to speed.
"I'm just kind of looking back to look forward," Graves said.
Altman said it might be two or three weeks into formal practices before his team is doing drills that, in a normal year, would be conducted in the first few days.
Both coaches are also awaiting guidance on what their schedules will look like. The Pac-12 has yet to determine how many conference games will be played, and the coaches haven't set their nonconference schedules.
Graves said he'd like to at least play previously scheduled games with regional nonconference opponents Portland State, Portland and Seattle University. Altman said he's awaiting guidance on the protocols for "multi-team events," the preseason events like the Maui Invitational that have become more popular the last few years.
"Right now, I couldn't tell you when we're going to open, who we're going to open with," Altman said. "And I bet if you asked most of the teams across the country, they'd be the same."
Both Graves and Altman are excited to start the season, however it is structured. It will be a welcome return to routine, after a summer sidelined by the pandemic.
Altman said early in the summer he intended to get more work done around the house than usual. This week, he admitted sheepishly that didn't end up happening.
"I'm the laziest guy around the house," he said. "I thought I would do something the last six months, and I didn't. It's kind of my way of helping the economy — I hire a guy to do everything."
Soon, though, it'll be back to work for Altman and the UO men's program, and Graves with the UO women. This won't be a typical season, by any stretch. But it will be a welcome return to normalcy, or at least as much as 2020 will allow.