Hofstra and St. John’s greeted the new men’s basketball season by holding their first official practices on Friday. Both programs were playing their best basketball of the season when the 2019-20 campaign was halted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Now, with the pandemic still looming, each is looking to pick up where it left off.
Hofstra had won the Colonial Athletic Association championship and earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2001.
St. John’s had embraced then first-year coach Mike Anderson’s pressuring defense-first style and had become very tough; it was leading seventh-ranked Creighton at halftime of a Big East quarterfinal when the tournament got cancelled.
"The returning players know how we want to play and we recruited young guys to play that way," Anderson said after holding morning and afternoon practices Friday. "As far as picking up where we left off, I like what I see so far . . . We’re probably ahead of where we were at first practice last season."
"We go into this season with the same goals as last year," Hofstra junior forward Isaac Kante said. "We have a core coming back and good new players. This team will have a different identity but, again, we want to win a championship."
Hofstra begins the season without head coach Joe Mihalich, who has taken a temporary medical leave. Associate head coach Mike Farrelly is the acting head coach and said "the championship culture has been here a while and, while I’ll be making decisions instead of suggestions by moving over one seat, I have learned from Joe, who is one of the best."
"We’re going to treat it like he’s here because we know he’ll be back," Kante said.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed some things at both schools.
Farrelly uses an electronic whistle so that he doesn’t have to remove his mask and the team didn’t get the summer work it typically gets and thus was playing competitive five-on-five for the first time since the CAA final on March 10.
Anderson said the full contingent of Red Storm players cannot yet be in its home locker room at the same time because of restrictions and that he wears gloves and a mask throughout drills and practices. "The protocols are in place for the right reasons," he said, "and it’s a cautious atmosphere."
One thing that’s become a part of both programs is an awareness of how college and professional sports that have returned to play are being impacted by positive tests in their ranks. Farrelly and Anderson both talk to their teams about it every day.
"What we say to them every day is ‘protect the team,’" Anderson said. "We tell them to do what they are supposed to do because one positive test could mean a two-week shutdown. Something like that could be costly for a team."
"Coach reminds us to be smart and safe every day," Kante said. "We know that what we do can have an impact on everyone else."