Davis Larson shoots the ball in an earlier game against Findlay. (S. Nathaniel Grime | Courtesy)
Despite COVID-19 concerns, the Hillsdale College men’s and women’s basketball teams will play this year and start as close to on-time as possible.
Sports were one of the many things lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, with high school and professional leagues alike stopping play indefinitely. Now, with the NBA forced to play in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, and mask usage required for nearly all high school sports in Michigan, there’s still uncertainty coupled with the idea of a return to collegiate basketball.
“We are able to start,” men’s head coach John Tharp said. “They’re so excited to be back. Not having a spring was such a hard thing for them, but in these beginning stages, their energy has been terrific.”
This season, which Tharp described as unprecedented, will certainly not come without its differences though.
“We’re only playing 22 games this year,” Tharp said. “That was an NCAA decision, and compares to the 28 or 29 that we played this past regular season.”
Charlie Averkamp, who is preparing to start his first season as the head coach of the women’s team, echoed the unprecedented nature of the coming season.
“As of right now, we are supposed to start on time,” Averkamp said. “But you never know with everything going on, that could change tonight, that could change tomorrow, that could maybe never change.”
Although the season’s start date is still up in the air, Tharp is confident that practice will start as soon as possible.
“In years past, we’ve been able to start around October 15,” Tharp said. “My feeling is that we won’t start until a little later in October.”
The final decision, Tharp said, will likely not come down to him and his fellow coaches.
“All of us and the commissioner of the league, we’re all kind of waiting to see what the NCAA is saying about things,” Tharp said. “Then it goes to the ADs and to the presidents of the G‑MAC, and those decisions get made from there.”
Even facing uncertainty, Averkamp said the team is more than ready and will be prepared for whenever the first tip-off occurs.
Though settling into his new job has been far from easy, Averkamp said he’s excited for the season and sees a lot of potential in his team.
“We have a really, really good group of kids who want to work hard, who want to be coached, and who want to be challenged,” Averkamp said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group to start off my career at Hillsdale.”
Going on his 14th year as the head coach, Tharp expects a lot from his team as well.
“Year in and year out we expect to compete at a very high level,” Tharp said. “We expect to play a certain way and that will never change.”
Currently, the coaches are only allowed eight hours with their teams a week; four of on-court basketball work and four of conditioning. Fifth-year senior Davis Larson said the coaches are using the time to prepare the teams for anything that might come.
“The coaches keep echoing it every single day, we want to be prepared for anything that happens,” Larson said. “Whoever we face, whenever the refs throw up the ball, we’ve got to be ready, no matter when it is, no matter who it is.”
Larson is recovering from ACL and meniscus injuries, which caused him to miss the final seven games of last season. Though he expects to be ready within the first couple of games of the 2020 – 21 season, he said he’s currently limited to more of a leadership role as a teammate.
“Right now it’s in the weight room, and with on-the-court conditioning, it’s 100% to go with that,” Larson said. “But on court it’s more of a leadership, supportive role, which is fine. I’m happy to do that.”
Larson, like his coach, said he sees a lot of potential in his team and that they have a solid core of returning pieces and young players who are ready to step up.
“Everyone has to take steps,” Larson said. “I think if they keep maturing and learn our offense, learn how we do things, and I think if we do things right, there’s not a lot of teams that can stop us.”