Unprecedented circumstances are, unsurprisingly, creating an unprecedented return to the floor for the Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball team.
On Monday afternoon, De'Monte Buckingham was hoping any opportunity to play would present itself at some point in the month of December. Little did he know that such an opportunity would be coming in roughly 48 hours.
On Monday evening, CSUB announced it would begin the 2020-21 season in rapid-turnaround fashion, taking on Santa Clara on Wednesday. This announcement left Buckingham both excited and taken aback.
“It’s crazy to get a game out nowhere," said Buckingham, a senior guard. "But we are just going to stay ready. Our whole team is ready for this moment and we got that call so now we’ve just got to go and do our job.”
A lot of scrambling has taken place to get the game scheduled, with certain details still needing to be ironed out. With Santa Clara County prohibiting contact sports, the game is being moved to Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.
As of press time, a tip-off time still hadn't been determined, with a CSUB official saying it would likely be at either 6 or 7 p.m.
Roadrunner coach Rod Barnes acknowledges the situation is far from ideal and knows his team will be at a competitive disadvantage in some ways.
In a rough offseason, which included a week-long stoppage of practices following a false positive COVID test, CSUB has only had about five weeks of solid preparation time, and Barnes says his team still has several things it needs to fine-tune.
The Roadrunners will also have to find their footing against a team that's already shaken off a lot of preseason rust. Santa Clara enters Wednesday's game having already played three games, winning all of them.
But considering that CSUB had payed nine games plus an exhibition at this point last season, any return, even a highly imperfect one, is a cause for celebration in the Roadrunner locker room.
"It's difficult from the standpoint of ... going from practicing to now all of the sudden you're preparing for a good basketball team," Barnes said. "We would have liked to have had more time to prepare. But we're at this stage now where we need to play. We couldn't afford not to play this game."
"We've been waiting patiently and now it's time to go," Buckingham added. "Things are finally feeling normal"
Santa Clara is expected to provide a live video stream of the game, though details were still be hammered out at press time.
Breaking the bubble
With he and his team having spent recent months attempting to "build our own bubble" on campus, Barnes has a lot to worry about as he prepares to take CSUB on the road for the first time and admits he's nervous about what's in front of him.
"There's so many other things I've been concerned about," he said. "The welfare and the mental health of our kids. You're thinking more of masks and making sure we've got enough sanitizer and stuff that you normally don't have to be concerned about.
'There's a concern always. You don't know if this virus is going to lay dormant and what may happen."
Buckingham, a senior team captain, says Barnes has helped keep he and his teammates vigilant in following protocols and believes they've been careful enough to where he's comfortable taking the floor.
“We don’t really think about that too much," he said. "Coach is always telling us, stay safe, stay smart, try to do the right things. But when it comes to games we don’t think about it. We’re just try to come ready to play and come out and start the right way.”
Depth is the key
A lot of familiar faces will be part of the Roadrunners' initial starting five Wednesday.
Seniors Taze Moore (11.5 points per game), Buckingham (8.9) and Czar Perry (8.4) — the team's top-three scorers from a season ago — are back to hold down the guard positions.
In the frontcourt, Justin Edler-Davis (43 starts in three seasons) and Ronne Readus (14 starts in 2019-20) will open the year as starters, with fellow seniors Justin McCall and Shawn Stith set to come off the bench.
A string of newcomers will also be in the running for key minutes, with Barnes staying "you're probably going to see us play 13 guys" throughout the season.
In the offseason, Barnes brought in guard Shaun Williams from Kansas State, and junior college transfers Grehlon Easter (guard), Travis Henson (forward) and Cameron Smith (forward).
Redshirt freshman center Ray Sommerville and reserve junior forward Jack Schoemann will also compete for playing time.
"I don't know about (Wednesday), but everybody's going to get a chance and everybody's worked hard," Barnes said. "We think the key to our success this year is depth."
And while Barnes believes Williams "has a chance to be really, really special," his opportunity won't come right away, as he's still awaiting the NCAA to approve a transfer waiver that will allow him to play this season. A redshirt sophomore, Williams played five games at K-State a year ago.