In a typical year, the month of May is a fairly quiet one in college basketball with the exception of recruiting. But while there are no formal team activities, the opportunity for one-on-one interactions between players, coaches and other support staff is always there.
But this isn’t a typical year, not with a global pandemic shutting down college sports back in March and with no sign of when things will return to some semblance of normalcy.
For Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller, not knowing when that will happen isn’t as important as making sure the time until then remains productive, informative and, most importantly, supportive for his returning players as well as the many new ones that are set to join the program for the 2020-21 season.
“As we talk, it marks about the seventh week since we were all together in Vegas,” Miller said in a 37-minute video interview with longtime UA basketball radio play-by-play man Brian Jeffries. “As we move forward we’re looking forward to that date, whenever it is, that we can reconnect. I think until then, I think communication is everything.”
Miller outlined four phases his team has gone through since March 12, the date the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments were cancelled:
“I think the first two to four weeks it was a matter of safety. Allowing each of our players to get home, making sure that in their own right that their own families are safe and healthy, that they had a safe place to go to.
“Phase 2 was making sure that, academically, that they were able to finish what they began, have a spring semester. How that works, working from home, everything online, the checks and balances and making sure they had all the support they needed to be successful, to finish the spring semester.
“I think the third phase that we went through was just kind of an encouraging phase. ‘Look, at some point we’re going to return back to school, at some point we’re all going to be allowed to leave our house, this will not last forever, just hang in there.’
“Now, that phase is ending, and really what we’re starting to do is have more direct talks so that those guys are … finishing up academically, that they are in fact really starting to work towards getting back here this summer and be the best basketball player they can be as well.”
Had campus not been shut down, returning players Ira Lee, Jemarl Baker Jr., Brandon Williams and Christian Koloko, as well as sit-out transfers Jordan Brown and James Akinjo, would have had full access to the UA’s athletic facilities in order to work out, get in reps and stay in shape. Instead, it’s been up to each of them—as well as the incoming additions—to maintain their fitness on their own.
Miller said that’s been much easier for some than for others.
“Each one of them has different resources,” he said. “We have certain players that have a basket in their driveway or backyard. We have certain players that had to search out a basketball (court). Not only did they not have access to a hoop in their own yard, but they don’t even have the ability to dribble a basketball. Same thing with weights. We have certain guys that have dumbbells, or an in-house setup, we have others that just have to do push-ups and sit-ups. By NCAA rules, we’re not able to keep track of what they’re doing. We can encourage them. We certainly can’t tell them what to do because each one of them is aligned differently with their resources.”
Miller said he, interim assistant coach David Miller and associate head coach Jack Murphy, trainer Justin Kokoskie, strength and conditioning coach Chris Rounds and senior academic counselor Andy Salgado have made sure to remain in regular contact with the players.
“We’re just trying, each Sunday through Saturday, to have a communication network where we’re talking to each other to make sure that we’re all on the same page as best as we can,” Miller said. “In our best attempt to be efficient, we’re doing the best that we can.”