HUNTINGTON — It took Marshall’s men’s basketball team a bit longer to get back on the court than other programs due to a COVID-19 quarantine within the program that kept them out of action for the last week.
Now that the Thundering Herd is cleared by health officials, Marshall’s players are intent on making up for lost practice time by hitting the ground running.
“It starts with our leaders — our senior guys, our core guys coming back and getting these new guys on track,” Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey said. “We have to come in focused. There’s no time to play around.”
In the system of head coach Dan D’Antoni, running is the only option. D’Antoni joked that when his team is performing its scheme correctly, the floor will be socially distanced to COVID-19 standards within the offense with spacing for players to operate.
“We’re spaced anyway, right?” D’Antoni laughed. “If we’re spacing, we’re good.”
Marshall brings back nearly everyone from last season’s team who got on a roll late in the year and advanced to the Conference USA quarterfinals before COVID-19’s denomination as a pandemic shut sports down for the next four months and forced the cancellation of the basketball season.
While last season ended prematurely for the players, they are looking to roll that momentum into the new season and earn a Conference USA championship and trip to the NCAA tournament.
D’Antoni said the goal is very clear — an NCAA title.
“I want to go all the way to the top,” D’Antoni said. “I learned a long time ago, don’t dream small. Dream big.”
D’Antoni said that the talent and the love for basketball that his players possess is what gets him excited for the start of a new season.
“They come ready every day,” D’Antoni said. “In fact, they motivate me. They get me excited and I’ve been doing this 50 years. They get me excited every day.
“It’s not looking…forward to a basketball game — I’ve seen tons of basketball games. But I’m motivated because of basketball games (and) who I’m playing them with. This team gets me excited.”
To advance through the conference and NCAA ranks, Marshall’s team has to steer clear of a pandemic that already took the first week of their practice time away.
Kinsey said that was a wake-up call for the players to be focused on and off the floor with everything they do.
“We’re trying to make sure we hold each other accountable now, so that we don’t get in the way of this virus and we don’t have to stop anymore,” Kinsey said.
Just moments after Marshall’s players hit the court for the start of their 2020-21 practice season, Conference USA sent out a release announcing the official format change for league play this season. Under the revised format, the league is moving to an 18-game league slate in which there will be minimized travel for teams.
Conference USA teams will play two games per visit at four select C-USA schools while also hosting four teams for two-game series, as well.
There will be one opponent — for Marshall, it would likely be Western Kentucky — in which there is a home-and-home series to fill out the 18-game slate. The schedule format was selected to minimize league travel within the conference.
The league’s tournament format will also include 12 of the league’s 14 teams, who will all travel to Frisco, Texas, from March 10-13 for the Conference USA tournament.
Marshall’s official 2020-21 schedule has not yet been released. It is expected to released in the coming days.