BROOKINGS – After an offseason of uncertainty, the NCAA announced on Sept. 14 that the men’s and women’s basketball seasons will begin on Nov. 25.
Even though the season is starting a little later than usual, the South Dakota State men’s basketball team was able to work out together this summer. However, it was a little different this year.
“We’ve been really, really fortunate,” said SDSU head coach Eric Henderson. “From our administration to our athletic director Justin Sell and President [Barry] Dunn. They’ve allowed us to have our guys use our facilities this summer. We were not allowed to have contact. So there was no one on one, two on two or five on five.
“We were allowed to get in the gym and have individual workouts. We did not share equipment or share baskets, but we were able to let our guys get work in and those were huge. … We had a really good summer with guys working on their game and getting more confident in their game.”
The Jackrabbits will officially begin getting ready for the 2020-2021 season on Oct. 14. They will have 30 practices scheduled before Nov. 25. SDSU has yet to release their schedule, but Henderson said they are going through their options right now.
“There is a lot of uncertainty as far as a schedule goes. We haven’t released any of our schedule, but we’re certainly working on ideas. One of those being going to a site and play multiple games and keep our kids in a safer environment getting tested more frequently. Not necessarily a bubble, but more and staying in their rooms and keeping life simple and where we’re able to keep them more safe,” Henderson said.
The Summit League has also not announced what their plan is for their conference schedule. Henderson said the league wants to play a normal schedule which would include a home and home against each team. He added that if they don’t think that’s safe, they have other options.
On the floor, the Jacks return eight players who played last season, including all five of their starters. With that experience, the Jacks did not have to work to much on team chemistry in the offseason. Henderson said the biggest thing his team has been working on is defense.
“There’s a lot of things we need to get better at,” Henderson said. “Obviously we return a nice core of players, but we’re also pretty young. So we need to continue to take every day and get better. Some of the more specific things that we’ve tried to get better at is our ability to guard the basketball. One on one guarding the basketball and keeping the guy in front of us is something that we think will help us take the next step of becoming a better team.”
There are four new players on the roster for SDSU. Two of them are freshmen and two of them are transfers. William Mfum is a freshman from Columbus, Ohio, and enrolled early into SDSU and spent last spring with the team. The other freshman is a local product in Cooper Cornemann from Yankton.
“[Mfum’s] athleticism and his dynamic ability to get downhill is really special. He needs to play and that was something that was the most difficult for Willy this summer is that he wasn’t able to compete and play [due to the COVID restrictions]. It’s been fun to watch Willy get into live action. He’s so dynamic and has the ability to guard the basketball at a high level,” Henderson said.
The two transfers are Luke Appel and Charlie Easley. Appell is a junior forward who transferred from Kirkwood Community College. Kirkwood is the same school that Doug Wilson, who was SDSU’s leading scorer last year, came from. Easley is a sophomore guard who transferred from Nebraska.
“Appel has been really, really effective offensively and has a great feel for the game. He fits in with our team very well as far as being unselfish. Charlie Easley has a knack for the basketball. His toughness is something that is really special. Impacts the game in many ways and can score from multiple areas on the floor. He’s very versatile and a good on-ball defender,” Henderson said.
This seasons will be full of challenges due to COVID-19. Henderson said the biggest challenge is that nothing is promised and everything is unknown.
“There’s so much uncertainty with the year and with the schedule,” he said. “We try to talk to our guys about not focusing on that and worrying about what can we do today to get better. If we can continue to keep that concept, I really like our group. I don’t want them to look to far ahead. They need to just worry about today and how we are going to do to get better today because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”