(Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series centering on the Bonnies’ official start to a still-uncertain 2020-21 season. Today, coach Mark Schmidt touches on scheduling chaos, Anthony Roberts and an extra year of eligibility.)
ST. BONAVENTURE — Mark Schmidt, in this instance, was happy to be wrong.
Asked over the summer when he thought the 2020-21 college basketball season might actually begin, the St. Bonaventure men’s coach was candid; He had little more information than the rest of us, he acknowledged, but if “I was a betting man,” he’d have predicted a Jan. 1 tip-off.
In the end, the NCAA Division I Council voted to push back the season start by about two weeks, to Nov. 25, hoping that with most schools opting to send students home by Thanksgiving, teams would have the opportunity to stage non-conference games on empty campuses.
But it isn’t that Schmidt was necessarily incorrect — the prevailing sentiment at the time was that a January start would be the best-case scenario. It was that he simply didn’t know to expect.
And here’s the next thing of which the 14th-year coach is admittedly entirely unsure: what the Bonnies’ non-conference schedule might look like.
By all accounts, trying to come up with something of a non-league slate amid travel restrictions, myriad safety precautions and while still not knowing what’s going to happen with conference schedules has been a nightmare for teams around the country.
Less than six weeks before it’s expected to take the court for real, Bona could say this much:
—It thinks it’s, indeed, going to open on Nov. 25.
—That game will probably be in a bubble (CBS’ Jon Rothstein reported earlier this month that Bona had agreed to be part of a “multi-team event” at Mohegan Sun from Nov. 25-27, which would include a game against Stephen F. Austin).
But even those elements are tentative, Schmidt said.
“WE HAVE no idea,” he said, bluntly, during a Zoom call with the media on Thursday morning. “You talk to coaches in the Atlantic 10 and there’s a number of them who say, ‘Hey, we don’t have a game yet.’ It’s the same thing with us. Nothing is set in stone. We haven’t really gotten any direction or final say from the Atlantic 10 if we’re going to play a couple conference games in December. There’s so many things, all these MTEs, you just never know, no one’s committed to them.”
Schmidt eluded to the confusion surrounding the Bonnies’ originally scheduled MTE, the Paradise Jam, as an example of just how chaotic the scheduling situation has become. That tournament was going to be moved from the Virgin Islands to either Phoenix or Nashville, then Washington, D.C., before being all but wiped out entirely.
“You hear on the news we’re going here, we’re going there, but there haven’t been any contracts signed, so it’s just a fluid situation and we’re working on it everyday. When the A-10 comes out and tells us how our conference season is going to go — I’m not sure what we’re going to do, if we’re going to have travel partners; there are a lot of things that haven’t been set yet.
“Right now, if you ask me who we’re going to play and when we’re going to play, I really don’t have an answer. And there’s a lot of programs in that same situation.”
— Bona already had plenty to be excited about, welcoming back all five starters, including two all-conference selections (Kyle Lofton, Osun Osunniyi), its top six scorers and an eligible transfer in Jalen Adaway, on whom the staff is undoubtedly high.
Now it has even more reason to be optimistic heading into this season.
Anthony Roberts, a double-digit scoring Kent State transfer, will be eligible to play this season after last week receiving a waiver from the NCAA. He’s a welcomed addition to a team that now features nine juniors and suddenly boasts yet another intriguing player in an already-talented backcourt.
“We were happy that he was able to get the waiver,” Schmidt said of Roberts, who averaged 13 points while helping the Golden Flashes to a mark of 20-12 last year. “I think he’s going to be a really good player. He’s somebody who … had a lot of success last year, he can really score the basketball, he can play both the 1 and 2.
As with Bona’s other new guys, though, he figures to face a bit of a learning curve after not being on campus over the summer.
“In essence, he’s a first-year player,” Schmidt noted, “so we can’t expect a ton from him early. But it’s just like the young guys: the quicker they can learn the system, the better off they’re going to be. But he’s a talented kid, he’s shown that he can be a successful Division I player at a good program, so we’re expecting him to come in and help us right away. He’s good enough, he’s shown it, now he’s got to show it in the Atlantic 10.”
— Earlier this week, the NCAA voted to grant an extra year of eligibility to all winter Division I athletes, regardless of how this season plays out.
It was the right move, Schmidt noted, given the unpredictable nature of what lies ahead, but he’s unsure of how it might affect his program going forward.
“With COVID-19, no one has any idea if we’re going to have a season, how long it’s going to be, if it’s going to be interrupted,” he said. “If I was a senior and I knew that it was going to be interrupted, we were only going to play 12 games, I’m thinking, ‘why would I want to waste my senior year playing 12 games? I’m going to opt out and redshirt.’ So the NCAA was smart in getting ahead of it and telling kids you’re not going to waste a year of eligibility.”
But how many of those players would want to return for a fifth year?
“I don’t know,” he acknowledged. “It’s really hard for a kid to look two years down the road. I would think that if St. Bonaventure wins the national title in two years, most of those seniors won’t come back. There’s just so many variables. Some of them may come back … some would say, after four years, I’m tired of being a student-athlete, let me go on and try to make some money, in the real world or pro basketball.
“It’s a good thing what the NCAA did … but I think it’s too early to really determine what the kids are going to do.”