As the only competition sport permitted to be played for the fall 2020 season, men’s and women’s basketball has been a beacon of hope for the Long Beach State athletic department.
Men’s basketball head coach Dan Monson said that the team isn’t where he’d like to see them on the court, but is proud of them for their “sacrifices.”
“It’s been difficult, it’s been very challenging but I think it’s been a great life lesson for our players, and I really commend our administration for giving us this experience because that’s really what college and athletics is about is life lessons,” Monson said. “We have an opportunity to do something that millions of Americans are sitting at home and not getting to go out and do what they love to do.”
Both programs were postponed on Jan. 15 after concerns over COVID-19 protocol were cited.
“This is a disappointing time for everyone involved with our two programs, but we will always prioritize the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Fee said in an email. “Our programs will return to practice and competition as soon as we can do so safely.”
According to Roger Kirk, director of athletic communications, “in-person activity will resume when it is deemed safe by medical professionals.”
Currently 4-7, men’s basketball has a long road back to the court. Initially slated to begin outdoor practice Oct. 1, the program’s hopes of getting back into the groove of things were slashed when an outbreak of coronavirus swept through the dormitory halls, postponing the teams’ advances for another two weeks.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced in September that all players had to be tested for COVID-19 three times a week to maintain health and safety standards.
According to President Jane Close Conoley, the testing required is costing the university anywhere between $200 to $400 per athlete. With the new NCAA guidelines, the athletic department may be spending between $7,800 and $21,600 weekly to test Beach athletes alone.
By the end of the season, the department will have had to spend close to half a million dollars on testing, just for student athletes. Testing for coaches and department personnel could push the total cost over the $1 million mark.
Monson said that there have been a total of 500 tests administered so far with no players testing positive. One staff member did test positive.
Conoley has confirmed that athletes will be required to be vaccinated as doses become available.
“This has been very difficult to isolate yourself as much as we’ve had to do, I think I’ve got players that have been quarantined for, 38, 42 days, over this time and I think they understand the value of being vaccinated would be a tremendous privilege to be able to do,” Monson said.
Given the option to opt out of playing due to concerns over COVID-19, Monson said the team has been playing with just five of its 13 scholarship players. As the season has gone on more players have returned to the program, the lack of positive cases and dedication to maintaining health standards easing their minds.
The men’s basketball team made its way back into the Walter Pyramid on Nov. 16, just two weeks before its preseason opener against UCLA.
That game, however, was never played. Just minutes away from arriving at the Pauley Pavilion, the athletic department at UCLA called the game off, citing coronavirus concerns.
According to Long Beach State athletic director Andy Fee, the men’s basketball program as a whole tested negative for COVID-19 six days in a row prior to traveling to UCLA. As of game day, the Beach had received clearance to play from the Long Beach Public Health Department.
“We felt we were in a position to safely play a game, we don’t have an outbreak within our team,” Fee said the following day. “We had a team on a bus, and all those people on the bus were negative. What UCLA decides to do is their deal, and again in this world, they’re entitled to making a decision, but the team we would have brought last night to Pauley Pavilion was safe.”
The game was rescheduled for Dec. 15.
Instead, men’s basketball’s preseason opener was played against Loyola Marymount, which the Beach lost 85-61.
In the program’s first game back in 267 days, the Beach (0-1) was led in scoring by guard Michael Carter III who made 19 points.
Senior guard Isaiah Washington followed close behind with 17 points, three rebounds and three assists. Junior guard Chance Hunter contributed 13 points for the Beach before fouling out in the second half.
Just two days later, Washington brought home the team’s first victory against Seattle University, winning 80-75.
Washington led the Beach (1-1) with 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The senior guard also made a three-pointer with less than two minutes to go, breaking the 72-72 tie to give the Beach the lead.
Carter, who had 20 points, and junior forward Joe Hampton, who chipped in 16 points and five rebounds, both made significant contributions to the game.
The Beach then lost its following game against the University of San Francisco 107-62 at War Memorial Gym.
Men’s basketball was anticipated to face off against UCLA after its initial matchup was postponed. However, the game was ultimately canceled due to the Beach’s first positive COVID-19 case within the department.
Conference play officially began Jan. 1, and it appears the men’s basketball team is struggling to pull ahead at 2-4. The team has been chosen to finish sixth in the Big West Conference media poll.
Monson said that he feels they “have pieces but we’re not a team.” Due to COVID-19 regulations team bonding experiences and even practice time on the court have been reduced to mere hour long experiences, a time frame not long enough to foster the team environment the program once knew.
“It’s hard to get that chemistry and that that trust with each other and so I’m just hoping that that we’ll be able to get some of that just through those hour and a half of practicing and a little bit of hanging out together we get to do,” Monson said.
The women’s basketball program has faced similar challenges making its way back to the court, but overall have been more successful at 7-1.
Like the men’s team, the women’s program had to practice outside for weeks before making its way onto an indoor court.
The women’s preseason opener went on without a hitch, and the Beach was able to secure victory over Westmont College at the Walter Pyramid 70-59.
Junior guard Justina King led in scoring, tallying 21 points in her seventh 20-point game in her career at CSULB.
Set to face off the University of San Diego just days later, the women’s basketball team experienced its first COVID-19-related setback when “a tier 1 member of [the] basketball team recently had a ‘close contact’ with a COVID positive person outside our program,” according to Fee.
The setback apparently didn’t affect the team, as it has been able to dominate the competition since.
Despite its successes on the court, the women’s team is anticipated to finish alongside the men’s in seventh place in both the Big West Conference coaches’ poll and the media poll.