The Grand Valley State basketball teams finally got some good news last week as the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) announced a 2021 schedule on Thursday, Nov. 12.
These new schedules are very condensed, as it’s an 18-game slate that will be played from the week of Jan. 7 to the end of February.
To minimize travel and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the schedule only consists of GLIAC opponents and will include several series that will be played across back-to-back days.
While it is unclear as of now whether the state’s new health order will push back the proposed schedule, the GVSU men’s basketball team is excited to finally have a plan for this season after months of uncertainty.
“There have been a lot of the challenges during this pandemic, and the mental part of it is really a challenge,” said men’s basketball head coach Ric Wesley. “For us, the uncertainty each day can certainly be a bit much. Getting the schedule out was really a positive thing as the first things you could point to that gave you a little hope, that at some point there might be a sense of normal life again.”
Both of the GVSU basketball teams have had to adjust to what has quite possibly been the most unpredictable offseason in each program’s history.
Mike Williams, head coach of the GVSU women’s basketball, thinks the squad he leads is prepared for anything after this chaotic offseason.
“We’ll find a way to make it work — I think whatever you get dealt with this year, you’re going to be excited,” Williams said. “You obviously don’t want to play the same team twice, but in retrospect, it makes a lot of sense to limit contacts. You get a chance to play, so I think a lot of people are excited that the GLIAC put together a schedule and tried to get done safely. If we can do it safely we’re ready to play some games.”
This new schedule features back-to-back series, where GVSU teams will play the same opponent twice in two days, eliminating the usual day off between games in most cases. While men’s and women’s teams typically alternate hosts, both teams will be traveling together on multiple occasions in the 2021 season
“Now we’re traveling in one bus, so it’s going to be completely different,” Williams said. “But we’ve been doing it differently for the past three months, so I think we’re used to whatever is thrown at us. We’re prepared for whatever comes our way.”
Those back-to-back games, the first of which tentatively scheduled against Saginaw Valley for both teams, will test both depth and change how these teams approach practice, as Wesley outlined.
“Your depth is really going to be challenged (because) back-to-back guys get tired,” Wesley said. “We’ve had some games on Thursday that when it was over, you spend the entire day Friday trying to recover and hope by Saturday you’re ready to go. Well now, you got to be ready to go on Friday.
“You probably have to be able to pay more attention to minutes played and monitor that a little more closely, obviously try to use your bench a little bit better, and you have to try to stay healthy so you have available bodies. What you do in practice is impacted by back-to-backs. It’s different, but we’re all doing it and hope we have that opportunity.”
To limit potential exposure to the coronavirus, both teams have been limited to mostly workouts in small groups. Most of the workouts have been conducted by roommates within the team to limit the spread and the number of bodies in the facilities at one time.
Wesley mentioned that his team has only gotten a chance to play 5-on-5 once over this pseudo-offseason, and said that sprinting in workouts can only do so much when compared to actually playing the game.
“I think we’ve only had one day where we actually played 5-on-5 since last spring,” Wesley said. “From a conditioning standpoint, you can do what you want in terms of sprints, but there is nothing like playing basketball. Everybody we talk to is in the same boat, it still feels like January is a long way away, and we have so much to do before we get to that point.”
Wesley feels that the men’s basketball is in a good position to succeed, citing veteran leaders in seniors Jake Van Tubbergen, Isaac Gassman, Christian Negron and Steven Lloyd as guys who have been around and make the transition into the season go smoother than that of a young team.
“The only thing that gives me hope is I know everybody else is doing the same thing, so I’m comforted by the fact that we have some established veterans,” Wesley said. “We’ve got some guys that have been around, we could probably play a game tomorrow. The new guys we have are older (transfers) and are a little more college-ready, so that helps. I feel blessed that we have some smart guys.”
Both basketball teams will open their seasons against Saginaw Valley State, with the men hosting the Cardinals and the women traveling to University Center for their match-up. Those games will be on Jan. 7-10, with exact dates and times to be announced soon.