Like all coaches these days, UL men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin was quick to add the coronavirus qualifier when discussing his eagerness to begin team practice sessions on July 20.
But if all things are allowed to go as planned, Marlin looks forward to begin molding a promising 2020-21 version of the Ragin’ Cajuns.
Despite all the uncertainty that plagues all of college athletics these days, Marlin is confident his team is ready.
“I feel they’re in a good place,” Marlin said. “Since the middle of March when this started, we took a couple weeks off but we’ve had two Zoom meetings a week with the team and a couple of the staff. We’ve tried to stay on top of it.
“Each Zoom meeting we have with the players, we always try to encourage them and keep everything positive, especially back in March when we didn’t know which direction this was going to go. Our guys have been positive overall. They’re anxious to get back in the gym and practice and play.”
Players began individual shooting workouts Wednesday ahead of the holiday weekend and will begin weight room and conditioning sessions Monday. That period goes through July 19, one day before team practice drills can begin.
These days, it all starts with safety.
Marlin said workouts may include masks and gloves for the players and perhaps even masks for the coaches.
“I think the NBA experiment is going to reveal a lot as well,” Marlin said. “I hope that comes off well, but we don’t know. I’m sure there are going to be issues there, too.”
Marlin said his staff has delivered consistent safety protocol measures to the team throughout the process.
“We’ve told them repeatedly that they’re going to have to practice the safeguards the university has put in place,” Marlin said. “They’re going to have to wear their masks, their coverings, wash their hands and social distancing. If you get in a car with another teammate — just be mindful of where you go and who you come in contact with.
“We talk about being part of the solution and not part of the problem. We’ve had to revisit that in the last couple of weeks with a lot of talk about the younger generation — 18 through 29 — not taking things as serious.”
Marlin said the team has also discussed the Black Lives Matter social movement around the country.
“I’m talked to several of them and we’re going to get into even more conversation throughout the year,” Marlin said. “It’s something we need to continue to educate, keep an eye on and try to help these young men.”
In fact, Sun Belt coaches and administration will be taking part in a workshop on the social issues in the country after returning from the July 4 holiday weekend.
If and when Marlin’s squad can get down to basketball, the staff has a list of concerns to address there as well.
The first goal will be to establish team chemistry and team leaders.
“It’s important to build some team unity that we did not get the opportunity to do this year in the spring,” Marlin said. “We lost three weeks in the spring after our season, basically April. We lost June, too. We’ll get the June back in August hopefully, but try to get the guys on the same page and to know each other. Almost half of our team is new.”
After previous seasons of top-notch senior leadership, it was an issue for the Cajuns a year ago. Originally, Jerekius Davis and Justin Miller would have joined P.J. Hardy and Mason Aucoin as seniors last season, but “they didn’t do what they needed to do to be here.”
Then Hardy began the season suspended and Aucoin fought through an injury limiting his time as a reserve.
“Absolutely that (injuries) hurt us from being older last year, and yes, potluck is a big part of that,” Marlin said. “We also had some suspensions and other issues where guys didn’t take care of their business.”
Veteran senior Cedric Russell figures to be the team’s biggest leader, while Dou Gueye is the other senior. Junior guard Trajan Wesley also returns as a candidate in that area.
If the NCAA rules in UL’s favor on the eligibility of 6-foot-11 Portland transfer Theo Akwuba and 6-10 freshman Isaiah Richards, some of the Cajuns’ defense and rebounding issues will be addressed. Still those figure to be a major point of emphasis for the staff.
“Trying to get those guys to learn our system,” Marlin said. “Certainly, we’ll focus on defense, playing together and taking good shots, etc.”
Meanwhile, Marlin sits back, watches and hopes the coronavirus scenarios don’t disrupt the progress of collegiate sports in the coming months.
“I do think we have a little bit more time for trial and error to see what happens with football,” Marlin said. “Me personally, the most important thing is to get students back on campus. If we do that, hopefully we can have a football season with some fans. There are going to be things that pop up. There have been nationwide with football. There will be things that happen during the season if we’re fortunate enough to play.
“We’ll have to see how those things are responded to.”