The forecast for UCSB basketball turned sunny this week when both its men’s and women’s teams resumed workouts … on the tennis courts next to Robertson Gym.
“I’m trying to avoid getting tan lines,” women’s coach Bonnie Henrickson said, “but I’ll take them if it means being around the team again.”
The situation brightened even further on Wednesday when the NCAA Division 1 Council voted to allow the coronavirus-delayed basketball season to start on Nov. 25. The outdoor workouts that were limited to just four hours this week will be expanded to 12 starting next week.
“It was really exciting to hear that we’re going to start playing only two weeks late,” men’s coach Joe Pasternack said.
Henrickson was working out four of her players during an afternoon shift on Wednesday when she got word of the NCAA vote.
“My Apple watch started buzzing,” she said. “Player after player was sending me the message, ‘Nov. 25!’ and ‘It’s Nov. 25!’ It was pretty cute that they were all on it.”
UCSB athletic director John McCutcheon said he still must work out several details with the coaches before announcing game schedules.
“But both teams have begun conditioning and limited outdoor workouts following strict protocols and testing,” he said.
Pasternack had his Gauchos training at a make-shift weight room set up on the outdoor tennis courts.
“The guys have been off for six months so we’re taking it very, very slow,” he said. “We don’t want to get anybody hurt. They’re not used to doing this outdoors so we’re being very careful with their bodies and going from there.
“But it is really exciting just to have the opportunity to see our players. The fact that they’ve set Nov. 25 as the starting date gives everybody some hope.”
The hopes for success are high with both teams.
The Gaucho men return four seniors — JaQuori McLaughlin, Devearl Ramsey, Robinson Idehen and Brandon Cyrus — plus two-time, All-Big West Conference junior Amadou Sow from last year’s team. UCSB had a win-loss record of 21-10 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down its season just hours prior to its Big West Tournament opener against UC Riverside.
“The last time we were together was when we were all eating breakfast in that hotel ballroom in Anaheim on March 12,” Pasternack observed.
His lineup this season will be bolstered by several newcomers. Three are transfers who joined the others in this week’s workouts: 6-10 junior Miles Norris from Oregon by way of the City College of San Francisco, 6-2 sophomore Ajare Sanni from Pacific 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.
The others returning from last year include two juniors, 6-5 Sékou Touré and 6-8 Jay Nagle, and 6-10 redshirt freshman Jakov Kukic.
“We have some great, high-character student-athletes who are talented, but this is such a beginning,” Pasternack said. “Our season will depend on how the chemistry happens … How they mold together as a team. That remains to be seen.
“I know it’s a cliché, but we have to just honor the process and not lose even a single day because we just lost six months. Every day matters to what happens to our basketball program, and these kids understand that.”
The teams that adjust to the unusual situation, he added, will be the most successful this season.
“It’s not going to be the most talented team that wins, or even the most experienced, like it usually is,” Pasternack said. “It’s going to be the team that’s able to function in all this dysfunction. The ones that have the attitude of honoring the process as a core value will be the most successful in college basketball this year.”
The UCSB women, like the men, have most of the key players back from a team that tied for second place in the Big West Conference. They include All-Big West center Ila Lane, a 6-4 sophomore who averaged a double-double of 15.3 points and a nation-best 13.0 rebounds last year, plus honorable mention senior point guard Danae Miller.
The six-month hiatus also allowed several hobbled Gauchos to recuperate, including 6-4 senior Natalia Bruening, 5-9 junior Aliceah Hernandez, 5-7 junior Bri Anugwom, 5-10 junior Kiana Vierra, and 5-6 sophomore RyAnne Walters.
“We’ve got returners, we’ve got experience, and we’ve got great leaders,” Henrickson said. “We’re also adding Doris Jones, a really good transfer who practiced with us last year, and two very talented freshmen (5-8 Anya Choice from Cardinal Newman High and 5-9 Alyssa Marin from Camarillo) who are both pieces to the puzzle.”
She will get a long look at two transfers with three-point range — 6-foot Megan Anderson and 6-2 Taylor Mole — who will work out with the team as redshirts before becoming eligible in 2021-22. Mole, however, is still in transit in a two-day trek that began in her Tasmanian hometown of Hobart and included a layover in Sydney, Australia, with a connecting flight in San Francisco.
“She gets into Santa Barbara at 2:50 on Friday,” Henrickson said.
The long journey is par for the course these days for a sport that got deflated with all others by COVID-19.
“It’s finally starting to feel a little more normal,” Henrickson said
Or at least as normal as possible when the nets are at waist level.