Following one of the most unprecedented weeks in the sports world, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team has embraced maturity, responsibility and unity in response to the abrupt end of its season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the potential risks involved with the spread of COVID-19, the Beach’s coaches and players agreed that prioritizing the health and safety of those, both in and out of their program, was the right move.
After going through its 9 a.m. shootaround at the Honda Center, it was just five minutes before Long Beach’s film session when the team realized its time together on the court this season had expired as the Big West tournament was canceled.
The team’s biggest takeaway—the vulnerability of the opportunities in life.
“It was disappointing,” head coach Dan Monson said. “We started the year as a new group with 11 new guys. We knew it was going to be a learning experience and we were sitting there pointed towards playing our best basketball in March. Was it good enough? We don’t know, and we’ll never know. We felt like we were confident going into that game. We felt like we were going to play really well. It was taken away, but as I told my players, that’s life. Nothing’s guaranteed. Tomorrow’s not guaranteed.”
Despite scratching its way into the tournament as its lowest seed, Long Beach was in no shortage of morale heading into its quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 seed UC Irvine.
In an effort to keep their focus on the Anteaters, the Beach decided to not discuss the possibility of the tournament being shut down until it was officially announced.
“We felt we had a really good chance at winning that whole thing,” junior guard Drew Cobb said. “It’s all of our dream, as college players, to be able to get to that moment and win that tournament at the Honda Center so we could go on to play in the big March Madness tournament that we’ve all been watching since we were kids. It hurt all of us, coaches included, just because we know how much we put into this whole year from the beginning.”
Senior guard Jordan Griffin was one of the conference’s 27 players in men’s hoops to have his collegiate career cut short unexpectedly. Both Monson and Cobb said they wish they could’ve given Long Beach’s lone senior a better send-off.
“I really felt for our own senior Griff,” Cobb said. “He was coming into his stride at the perfect time. There couldn’t be a more perfect time. He started playing extremely well, he was seeing a lot more minutes. I just felt for him, just being that Fullerton was his last game and we weren’t able to send him out with a ‘W.’”
For Long Beach, moving forward as a program has been easier than anticipated.
Heading into the team’s last film session to discuss the season’s end, Monson said he thought addressing his team was going to be challenging, but quickly realized it wasn’t. This situation was something bigger than basketball.
“I talked to them about Josh Morgan’s dad,” Monson said, “who has a heart condition and a compromised immune system and coach [Myke] Scholl, who has a new kidney. I said, ‘All of us will probably be fine, but if we save Josh’s dad’s life by not having fans there, if we save coach’s life by not having this tournament, it’s all worth it if we saved a life.’”
Right after, the coaching staff showed the team a film of what “was going to happen”—a highlight tape of every basket the Beach scored against Irvine in the last two seasons.
For the time being, Long Beach’s returning players are suggested to follow all self-quarantine recommendations, exercising and recovering privately.
“Next season is a long ways off,” Monson said, “and this is the time of the year that we always give players social distancing. We always say, ‘Hey, get away from each other. Get away from the coaches.’ We’ve had six months where we’re almost 24/7 with each other. We need to get that stinger back into ourselves and our program.”
Unless the virus lasts through July, the program doesn’t expect its preparation for next year to change.
“Starting in Costa Rica with the new guys that we had,” Cobb said, “adding all these new people on the team, our chemistry, all the battles we fought, the ups, the downs, the preseason we had. It hurt us for real, but going forward I think it’s going to be good for us, keeping that fire lit, remembering that not every game is promised.”
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