The men’s basketball team’s new season begins in November and after playing a subpar 6-12 season last year, the team is excited to begin a new campaign that will feature fans fully back in the stands. The Beach is also looking for their first winning season since 2017-2018.
“The last four or five years have not been up to the level of university deserves or expects,” head coach Dan Monson said. “And that falls on me.”
Also, unlike last year with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the team was also able to have a regular offseason schedule and train for a full regular season.
“You know, it’s awesome and I think good always comes out of stuff that’s bad,” Monson said. “The Coronavirus was bad but it certainly gave us an appreciation for how fortunate we are to play a game we all love.”
Senior guard Drew Cobb almost opted out of last season because of COVID-19 but decided to play anyway after educating himself about the virus. During that time, training was something that was much more independent for the guard out of Sacramento.
It was difficult for players that were trying to improve their skills and find somewhere safe to practice because they were forced to isolate themselves.
“Started outside on the tennis courts and then they’re training on the track and it was struggling then for a second,” Cobb said. “They said they had to go to an AIM sports facility, right down the road in Seal Beach.”
This year however is much different, as the team is excited to get back to normalcy and has started to practice together again. Last year the team was plagued with injuries and coach Monson believes that it’s because players were not able to train properly and the risk for injury was much higher.
Monson also expressed that the biggest problem of playing basketball during the pandemic was that it was harder for players to stay in shape.
“We had five guys go out with knee injuries and I think a lot had to do with not being able to lift weights and not being in good enough shape,” Monson said.
One struggle the team faced last year was playing games in empty arenas because due to the pandemic, fans were not allowed to attend games. Players missed the roars that came from the crowd, especially when they would have home-court advantage, and even more so when they were in close games that would wind down to the last second.
LBSU had to find ways to win games together without the crowd, but senior guard Colin Slater believes those moments also made them better as a team.
“I will say COVID definitely impacted how close we are as a team, just on the basis of us being alone like we are winning or losing games,” Slater said. “It was literally just us.”
The team is approaching this season a bit differently as their team goal is playing with the right mindset and maintaining their mental state.
“I would say, about 80% of the game is mental so if your mental is not right, you’re obviously not going to play,” Cobb said. “So that’s something we’ve really been trying to focus on this year is keeping everybody on the same page mentally.”
Monson is also introducing a more bonding-type experience for his team. Every Monday, instead of practicing, the team has “personal growth Mondays.” The goal of these sessions according to Monson is to build the mindset of putting team goals ahead of personal goals. Monson also has guest speakers come in to give inspirational speeches to the team.
“Back in old times as a coach it was all about teaching them X’s and O’s and, and the fundamentals of the shot,” Monson said. “That’s just how parenting was and coaching was, and well, that’s changed now. [This] generation should be commended for it.”
Cobb also expressed that another aspect of the game fans should expect to see different this year is the team’s improvement in communication, rebounding, and keeping a fast tempo in the games.
“We’re trying to improve our communication, the way we talk on the floor,” Cobb said. “Our emphasis right now is really just rebounding the ball and getting after it, quizzing the pace of the game.”
Rebounding is something that Slater and Cobb mentioned The Beach will need to improve on if they want to win The Big West conference this season.
“We finished 11th in the conference in rebounding, so we’re trying to improve that,” Slater said.
Coach Monson wants the team’s conditioning to get better. He says that players were becoming more fatigued in games and he believes it was because they had limited time in the weight room.
“We weren’t allowed to have much of an offseason practicing, [we couldn’t] be together,” Monson said.
Monson expects Irvine and Santa Barbara to be the biggest threat to The Beach this season.
“There was a six or eight years period where people had to go through us to win the league, and unfortunately I’ve lost that the last four to five years,” Monson said. “[Irvine and Santa Barbara] have the best programs and culture right now.”
The team will kick off their preseason with an exhibition match against Biola University on Nov. 5 at the Walter Pyramid. Their first regular-season match is Nove. 10, while the first Big West conference game is Dec. 30 against Cal Poly San Louis Obispo.
Matthew Brown contributed to this article