Collegiate sports are on hold with no timetable on when they will resume. In sports, wins and losses are understood clearly. As of now, it seems like nothing is certain because of a global pandemic. The timetable for a return to normalcy is unknown.
“It’s low key depressing, but I’m just continuing to work out and stay busy, I have weights and pull up bars here at home,” explains CSUSB star point guard, Jeremy Smith. Smith is a senior on the team who was awarded all California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) first team this year.
CSUSB’s men’s basketball team was set to make a deep run in the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, only to find out that they wouldn’t have a chance to play a single game because of nationwide cancellation of the tournament by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been six years since the Coyotes qualified for the NCAA tournament.
For seniors, this was their last chance to make a deep push through the tournament and bring a championship to CSUSB.
The team headed into the tournament poised and focused with an impressive 21-8 record overall.
“We got to the tournament, we could have made a run, it’s crazy, we can’t even say anything, we can’t even show anybody anything,” says Smith.
“I was ready to go, I was so ready. I feel like I could have had 30 points a game. We were having our shoot around and I was literally making everything, making all the right plays. I was so locked in,” explains Smith.
The rumors were spreading through the sports world of potential league cancellations. The NBA was beginning measures for their shut down. There were rumblings that the NCAA was going to cancel the tournament entirely soon.
The team could sense that something big was going to happen.
Smith explains that he “had a feeling they were going to cut it short and they ended up doing it.”
His teammate Andres Villa, or “Bull Dog,” was awarded all CCAA second team this season. Villa reflects on his feelings as the team receives the devastating news from Athletic Director, Shawn Ferrell.
“We went through our normal shoot around on Thursday at noon, the day before we were meant to play. Then, at the end of practice, Shawn gave us the news. We didn’t really know what to think. We went back to the hotel room, got our stuff and drove back home and we were just like ‘wow, this really just happened,” recalls Villa on that day.
Villa and Smith share the same sentiment about their chances to make an extensive run in the tournament.
“We were feeling good, the team we were going to play first, we had already scrimmaged against them early in the season so we were ready,” Villa explains.
Villa reflects on his emotions and tries to process what happened.
“It was just disbelief. It didn’t really hit me until that following Monday. We had a meeting and the coaches were telling us that basically everything is getting canceled. It didn’t feel real, it felt like we were in a movie or like someone was trying to play a prank on us,” says Villa.
The emotions ran high on the team as their season was taken away by something out of their control.
Villa says, “When it first happened, I was really heartbroken. I could live with ending my senior year on a loss, but not even being able to play in the game, it was hard.”
CSUSB men’s basketball look to Farrell and head coach Andrew Newman.
Farrell was deemed the one to break the bad news. The team was in San Diego; it was the regional game of the tournament. Farrell got the call that the tournament was canceled and delivered the devastating news once the players finished practicing.
“For those seniors, their careers are over. It was a pretty emotional scene. Think about the most important thing in your life being taken away from you without warning. Supporting our student-athletes when so much of who they are and how they identify has been taken away from them is the utmost importance to us. For us, helping with their mental and physical wellness and supporting them one hundred percent has been our most important priority,” says Farrell.
Coach Newman is a man with experience and basketball pedigree. He has the most wins ever as the mens college basketball coach at his previous school, University of Texas of Permian Basin. He is a “basketball-lifer” as some would say but not even a pandemic could prepare him and his team for these events.
“It was a tough deal for us, we had a good team. We were one of 64 teams that were left playing for a national championship in the country. Our team’s mindset was ‘we are talented and really good’ and to have that being taken away from you is tough. Those are precious moments. It’s not every year that you’re going to have a team that’s that good and playing that well at that moment so you really want to take advantage of those times when you have it and so to have it taken away from us was a tough pill to swallow,” says Newman.
“For our seniors Jeremy, Bull Dog and Isaac took it the hardest. Usually, you play your last game. If you get beat it’s like ‘okay, alright we got beat’. This is different, they didn’t have that finality to their season that they usually do,” explains Newman.
Coach Newman is keeping his messages positive with his players.
“We’ve been talking our way throughout. We’ve tried to move past it with some clarity and perspective by telling them ‘hey this is a pandemic, people are losing their lives, there are bigger things in life than an NCAA tournament,” says Newman. “If we are fortunate to get back in the tournament next year, I think this will make our younger players understand the importance of the moment and not take it for granted.”
Coach Newman, has been able to balance his recruiting quite well despite the pandemic. He’s signed four players and is able to incorporate virtual tours and face time calls to keep the interactions fresh.
“It’s actually been really good. We’ve had great success, we’ve signed four guys who I think are really good. I was nervous about it at first, about not being able to have official visits by the players. We’ve always had a lot of success in getting kids to commit from being able to get them on campus and show them what we have to offer,” says Newman.