UCSB basketball has a roof back over its head.
The Gauchos said goodbye to their outdoor training area on the Rob Gym Tennis Courts and resumed conditioning inside the Thunderdome on Monday. The move was made just in time for Wednesday’s official NCAA start for team-wide practice.
UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said his Gauchos probably won’t start full workouts until Thursday.
“We’re just grateful to be able to get back into our gym,” he said. “Sometimes you take a lot of things for granted. Over the last six months — beginning when we were sitting in our hotel breakfast room and found out that we wouldn’t be able to play in the Big West Tournament — we’ve learned that we can’t take basketball for granted.
“We have to be very flexible because, with COVID, nothing is guaranteed.”
The Gauchos have been conditioning for the last four weeks in groups of four, with two players at each of the portable baskets that were set up on the outdoor tennis courts. That same regimen continued on Monday inside the Thunderdome.
“A tennis court surface is better than your typical outdoor basketball court, but it did get old after a while,” Pasternack said. “The guys’ knees and ankles and shins have been hurting because of the hard surface, so it is nice to get back into our own place.”
The Thunderdome, which added chairback seating in the reserved section behind the team benches last year, will replace more of its seating next month.
“We’re also getting a practice court,” Pasternack said. “We’ve had a couple of donors step up in a huge way.”
The practice facility will include a new, state-of-the-art floor that will replace the arena’s current, hard surface. The new chairback seating above it will retract to the wall during workouts.
“It’s a big deal, getting more chairback seating,” Pasternack said. “The demolition of the current seating should start the first of November.
“I’m just so grateful for the two donors who are making this possible. They’re changing the scope of UCSB basketball.”
The Gauchos expect to open their season at the Thunderdome on Nov. 27 with a mini-tournament called the Santa Barbara Slam.
“We’ve got Florida Gulf Coast and Florida A&M coming,” Pasternack said. “But believe it or not, a lot of our schedule still isn’t finished. Because of the later starting time, we’ve had a lot of games canceled.
“Texas-Arlington was also supposed to return our game with them (on Dec. 7), but their administration doesn’t want them flying here (because of the coronavirus pandemic).”
The NCAA’s new starting date for games of Nov. 25 forced the cancelation of four of UCSB’s contests, all of which would have been played at the Thunderdome: Nov. 11 against Menlo, Nov. 15 against Idaho State, Nov. 18 against UC Santa Cruz, and Nov. 22 against Pepperdine.
The Pepperdine game will now be played in December in Malibu, Pasternack said.
The Gauchos are also set to play at Loyola Marymount on Dec. 12. But they are postponing their Dec. 19 trip to West Coast Conference power St. Mary’s to next year.
“They didn’t want to pay us the big guarantee since they wouldn’t have any fans in the stands, so now we’re going there next year,” Pasternack said.
UCSB’s Big West Conference schedule, which was set to begin at home on New Year’s Eve against league newcomer UC San Diego, is also in a state of flux. The conference is considering several new formats including one in which one school will play at another on back-to-back nights, with no return trip.
“We’ve actually heard all kinds of scenarios but we’re still waiting to hear what we’ll wind up with,” Pasternack said.
Although spectators may not be allowed in the Thunderdome, he said UCSB is renewing its contract with Fall Productions to live-stream all home games.
Pasternack has assembled a roster of 19 players led by returning All-Big West Conference selections Amadou Sow (6-foot-9, second-team junior forward) and JaQuori McLaughlin (6-4, honorable mention senior guard). Three other seniors —6-foot Devearl Ramsey, 6-10 Robinson Idehen, and 6-5 Brandon Cyrus — are also expected to play crucial roles.
Others returning from last year’s 21-10 are a pair of juniors — 6-5 Sékou Touré and 6-8 Jay Nagle — and 6-10 redshirt freshman Jakov Kukic.
Three transfers figure to play prominent roles: 6-2 sophomore Ajare Sanni from Pacific, 6-10 junior Miles Norris from the City College of San Francisco, and 6-7 graduate transfer Destin Barnes from Jacksonville. Two other transfers — 6-2 junior Calvin Wishart and 6-3 sophomore Josh Pierre-Louis — are also training with the team as redshirts.
“They’ve all been terrific,” Pasternack said. “They’ve had incredible attitudes through this whole thing. They love the game of basketball and just want to get better.
“Destin went to three different schools before coming here and Miles has been to two, starting out at Oregon before going to San Francisco. This is kind of their last hurrah so they’re very, very motivated, and that helps.”
He’s also working out six walk-ons: 6-6 junior Eric Bower, 6-3 redshirt freshmen Max Cheylov and Darren Long, and true freshmen 6-3 Gage Gomez, 6-2 Kyle MacLean, and 6-9 Niko Rocak.
“Everyone is here, ready to go and healthy — knock on wood,” Pasternack said.
And on a wood floor, at that.