ST. BONAVENTURE — It hasn’t happened in 28 years.
On Dec. 1, 1992, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team ushered in a new season, and a new era under first-year coach Jim Baron, with an 83-74 triumph over Navy inside the Reilly Center. That was the last time the Bonnies started a season in December, a practice that, even by then, was becoming extinct as the number of games a college team was allotted began to increase.
Try as it did to avoid an exposure and side-step a recent outbreak on campus (which by Friday had numbered 70 active cases), Bona could no longer withstand a seemingly impossible numbers battle, becoming the latest Division I program to have to pause activities for at least 14 days after a positive COVID-19 test on Thursday.
As a result, it will no longer be able to participate in next week’s three-game “Bubbleville” event at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. That also pushes its 2020-21 season-opener until at least the first week of December.
And though that makes for another crushing blow for a team with such billowing expectations in the coming (?) year, the Bonnies continue to somehow remain positive amid such trying circumstances.
“RIGHT NOW, everybody’s in good spirits,” junior guard Jaren Holmes insisted via a Zoom call Friday. “Like I’ve said, everything happens for a reason; something could possibly go wrong (in Connecticut). I don’t know what the Lord has planned for us, but I know that if we were supposed to be there, we would have been there.”
The Bonnies had done “everything right” to protect themselves from the virus, Holmes maintained.
His thoughts underscored what coach Mark Schmidt and fellow junior captains Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi had said during Atlantic 10 Media Day the week before, when they spoke of making sacrifices to save the season, of choosing Playstation over parties.
And still, as it has with so many other programs around the country, the virus found Bona. And that’s the reality it faces as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to upend another season.
“I feel I can say this for my group of guys and my teammates,” Holmes said. “ … I don’t think there’s a team more focused than us when it comes to handling this. Masks, stay within our bubble, our team, only going to class, only hung out with each other, only ate with each other. We’re taking this thing serious.
“It’s unfortunate that it hit us this way, and right before we were about to play. And we don’t even know how many games we’ll actually get in. But I can say this right now: we’re in good spirits. And we’re just going to continue to get better, we’re just going to continue to become closer.”
MUCH AS it was forced to do during the spring quarantine phase, Bona intends to use its shutdown (it can’t practice or gather in person during those two weeks) to improve in other areas virtually.
And this now-longer delay (the Bonnies opened on Election Day, Nov. 5, in 2019) will only add to the collective chip on its shoulder, Holmes asserted.
“We’re taking the positives in everything,” the Romulus, Mich., native said. “Maybe even more film sessions with the coaches over Zoom. Little things. We can find ways to get better throughout (this) and be ready to go as soon as we get back.
“We were that close and we’re itching now. Now we’re ready … when we get back on the court it’ll be non-stop and we’ll be ready to go out there and win some games.”
THE WAIT, the (continued) uncertainty has been frustrating.
From late March through July, basketball, as the Bonnies knew it, had come to a halt. For the last four months, it had only been able to build back up and compete against one another. And now it’s shut down once again.
What helps, Holmes noted, is that this is a veteran team going through it together. If anyone is suited to pick back up at a moment’s notice, it could be these Bonnies.
“Because we’ve been with each other for so many days, so many hours, so many practices,” said the 6-foot-4 guard,” whose team, by Dec. 7, will have gone nine months since its last game, a 72-49 loss at Saint Louis. “We know each other; I know when something’s wrong with ‘Shoon, ‘Shoon knows when there’s something wrong with me. Kyle knows when there’s something wrong with me, Alpha (Okoli) knows when there’s something wrong with me.
“We’re living with these guys, you know? We’re going to be there for each other no matter what, and right now we are the ones that have to get each other through this. So it just shows how close we are as a family, that no matter what happens, we’re going to be a family through everything.”