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Stony Brook men's basketball opens practice, but it's different in pandemic

Stony Brook head coach Geno Ford react in

Stony Brook head coach Geno Ford react in the second half of an America East semifinal against Hartford at Island Federal Arena on March 10. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team took to the floor at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on Wednesday, the first official day of practice for the 2020-21 season. Newcomers worked to blend with returning players and conditioning and skill work were prioritized, but this was like no first practice any of them had ever experienced because of changes forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The coaches wore masks throughout and the players donned them at all times except when competing. No work was done in the film room because protocols prohibit the whole team from cramming into it.

"It’s completely different," Seawolves coach Geno Ford said. "At the start of every practice we will spend time talking about the latest college athletics program that had to shut down because of positive tests. The [coronavirus] protocols have been drilled into us but it gives them a constant reminder that missteps could end up shutting us down for close to a month with a quarantine and then the time to ramp back up."

Thus far, the Seawolves have undergone weekly coronavirus testing. Beginning in November, they will be tested three times a week.

Stony Brook, which is a member of the America East Conference, probably won’t have a schedule until early next month. Some conferences — like the SEC and Big East — have recently decided to play a bunch of their conference games in December. Others — like the Ivy League and Patriot League — have pushed play back. The America East hasn’t finalized its slate. Ford said the Seawolves are currently looking at a fifth iteration of their 2020-21 schedule.

St. John’s will hold its first practice on Friday and still is working to finalize its schedule; the only certainty is that it plans to open the season with a four-team round-robin showcase Nov. 25-27 at Carnesecca Arena.

Hofstra, too, will hold its first practice on Friday. The Colonial Athletic Association on Wednesday released a conference schedule that seeks to minimize travel. The Pride will play home-and-home games over three days with travel partner Northeastern. It will play all other CAA opponents twice but on consecutive days at one site.

Ford said constructing a practice week also has been a challenge. Stony Brook will practice Monday through Friday with weekends off. Having two consecutive days off, Ford said, would be good for keeping players apart and could be advantageous if one were to test positive for COVID-19.

However, five straight days of practice without a break "could lead to a higher \[incidence\] of injuries," he said, "so one of the days will have to be purely skill work."

That could make things harder on a team that had a lot of roster turnover with graduations and transfers. But on the first day, things went well for the Seawolves.

Mouhamadou Gueye, the top returning scorer and rebounder, looked ready to emerge as one of America East’s top players, Ford said. And Frankie Policelli, a Dayton transfer who had to sit out last season, was in top form.

"This won’t be the same sort of season as any other," Ford said, "but this was a good start."

NCAAs at MSG. The 2023 NCAA Tournament East Regional will be held at Madison Square Garden and hosted by St. John’s and the Big East. It was supposed to host the 2020 East Regional before the tourney was canceled because of the pandemic.

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