LOUDONVILLE — Wearing masks as they lifted weights and seemingly utilizing sanitizing solution as much as basketballs, the Siena men’s basketball team started Monday preparing for what’s ahead of it.
That future includes a lot of uncertainty — including when and where the Saints will eventually, hopefully, play games. To get to that point, extensive health-related guidelines and protocols will need to be followed, and the Saints know that.
“We just want to keep everyone safe, so hopefully we can have this season coming up,” Siena sophomore Jordan King said Monday as his team's preseason workouts got underway.
Nobody, for now, is quite sure when that season will start as the nation continues to grapple with a coronavirus pandemic that took away last season’s NCAA tournament and looks likely to cause the upcoming season’s start to be delayed. The Saints were 20-10 and on a 10-game winning streak when its 2019-20 season ended abruptly with the cancellation of the MAAC tournament in Atlantic City, and the Saints’ season-opening home game against Colgate slated for Nov. 10 is one that looks increasingly likely to, at the very least, not be played on that day.
Siena — like most Division I programs, including UAlbany — hasn’t released its schedule for the upcoming season, and the NCAA is expected to make a mid-September announcement that recalibrates when the 2020-21 season will start. Momentum seems to be behind a start date no earlier than Nov. 25, but, one way or another, Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said he has “very little” confidence the season will start on Nov. 10.
“I think if we were going to that, I think we’d know that already,” D’Argenio said Monday, sitting on a bench outside of his school’s Marcelle Athletic Complex, which houses the Alumni Recreation Center where his men’s basketball team could play its home games this season if it’s deemed its usual home — downtown Albany’s Times Union Center — won’t work because of pandemic-related restrictions, both financial and logistical, for the 2020-21 season.
In and around the MAC building Monday, Siena’s various athletic programs began preseason and offseason workouts, including the Saints’ men’s and women’s basketball teams. For men’s basketball head coach Carmen Maciariello’s squad, the introduction back to formal athletic activity included splitting the 17-deep team into two groups so that one could get in work on a basketball court while the other worked in the weight room with strength and conditioning coach Ernie Ruch. After 45 minutes, the groups switched locations and tasks.
Was it like any other year?
No, not even close.
But it was a start, and that’s a necessary step to take in all pursuits as the country tries to head back to normal — or some “new” version of it.
Maciariello? Even when he’s on the court with his players this month, he — and his fellow coaches — will be wearing masks. That hinders communication, to some degree, as his players cannot easily see his facial expressions as he works with them. If he wasn’t wearing one Monday, though, what his players likely would have seen was a smile on their second-year head coach’s face after he went nearly six full months without being able to work with them in a live setting.
“Just excited to see them sweat, to be honest with you,” said Maciariello, who led last season’s Saints to their first MAAC regular-season championship in a decade.
If a MAAC season is played this academic year, Siena will be a heavy favorite to win another regular-season crown. Saints junior Jalen Pickett, the league’s reigning player of the year, said he and his teammates know it’s crucial to follow the guidelines and protocols put in place to help protect their health from a virus that’s already resulted in 6 miilion cases in the United States, according to a New York Times database.
“It’s very important. Nobody wants to get COVID, and we all want to have our season,” said Pickett, who, like each of Siena’s athletes, must spend part of every morning undergoing a “daily symptoms/temperature check” before being allowed to enter into the school’s athletic facilities. “So I hope everybody is following the rules at every college and every institution, because we’re going to try to have a season. We all love playing basketball . . . and we don’t want to lose our season.”
Like Siena, UAlbany started its workouts Monday. That came after the Great Danes delayed their start a week because of concern over large off-campus gatherings discovered to have occurred during the final weekend of August. UAlbany deputy athletic director Vic Cegles said each of UAlbany’s programs participated in some type of team activity Monday, and the school’s weight room was in use from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. because of the reduced capacity allowed within the facility.
Previously, UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown said his team’s first day would include a mix of weight-lifting sessions and on-court work. During the on-court work, Brown said last month he expected his players to each use their own basketball and to wear masks as they played.
Brown documented pieces of his team’s first day on social media, posting several tweets. Among them: “Life is full of adversity and tough times. How do you handle adversity? Embrace adversity as a chance for opportunity!”
At Siena, D’Argenio said he doesn’t expect the school’s basketball teams to progress much beyond the style of workouts they went through Monday prior to when they’re able to start formal preseason practices, which are allowed to commence 42 days before a team plays its first game. “Definitely weird” was how King described the circumstances around the Saints as they started on their path toward a 2020-21 season. King, though, said he worked out all offseason while wearing a mask, and that his team is as focused as ever as it gets going.
“We just want to get back to work,” King said.