HUNTINGTON — Ever since he’s been in basketball, Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni has loved the concept of using speed and tempo to his advantage.
In no other year may it be more crucial than in the 2020-21 season, however — a year where conditioning has become troublesome for teams due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We hope so,” D’Antoni said. “If that’s the case, we’ll run a little bit more today.”
Conditioning has been an issue across the nation this season with universities and weight facilities shut down from late March and for nearly the next five months of the COVID-19 crisis.
It wasn’t until late summer that voluntary workouts could begin for men’s and women’s basketball, and many of those were more individual in style, which kept teams from getting together.
That meant it was on individuals — 18 to 22-years-old, in most cases — to put forth the effort to stay in shape during the pandemic, which is not always an easy thing to get accomplished.
While the pandemic has changed everything surrounding basketball, the one thing that will not change is D’Antoni’s scheme, which is going to incorporate ‘pace and space’ concepts set up toward free-flowing, fast-moving offense.
D’Antoni also has the luxury of having nearly the entire 2019-20 roster back at his disposal, which means the chemistry built late in last season’s run to the Conference USA quarterfinals prior to the halt in play should still be in tact.
After a 2-6 start, D’Antoni’s team rallied to finish 17-15 while winning seven of their last nine games, based on stronger offensive play that saw scores back in the 80s.
That experience factor is one that D’Antoni does not want to work against the Herd, however, and he’s trying to ensure that with intensity of practices.
D’Antoni explained the reasoning in a Zoom interview this week.
“Experience is a funny thing,” D’Antoni said. “It can be a benefit or sometimes, it can lead to your downfall. You can get complacent and you’ve done it for so long that you don’t have the same enthusiasm that you’ve once had. You have to be aware of that.
“Sometimes people just say, ‘Well, they’re experienced. They are going to play better.’ That’s not a guarantee. I think what it does guarantee is that they know what we’re doing. We don’t have to spend the time teaching them new stuff. The stuff they’re familiar with, we’re brushing up on and trying to do little things and find little odds and ends that make it even better.”
In addition to the wealth of experience, D’Antoni has added three pieces in Logan’s David Early, Chapmanville’s Obinna Anochili-Killen and Spring Valley’s C.J. Meredith — all of which bring an important dynamic to the practice sessions.
Early is a tough guard that can score at will, which brings an edge while Anochili-Killen is more known for his defensive prowess and energy on the floor. Meredith is also a lengthy shooter who can fill it up when left open, meaning the practices take on an intense feel with the newcomers trying to prove themselves against the older veterans.
As Marshall looks to incorporate all the pieces in its arsenal for the 2020-21 season, D’Antoni said the key to capitalizing on the experience is to stay healthy away from the court and not get into bad situations that lead to COVID-19 complications.
“They’ve all taken it upon themselves to be extremely cautious and watch how much contact they have with people because they want to play this season and they want to have a chance at doing something they love to do,” D’Antoni said.
The 2020-21 season start date is Nov. 25, according to the NCAA. It is expected that Marshall will have a game on that date, although no official schedule has been released at this time.
That non-conference schedule could be released next week.