The context to pretty much everything that head coach Tim Jankovich talks about as it relates to SMU basketball has to have a caveat.
When talking about the future of college basketball, there’s the underlying and undeniable uncertainty of when that future resumes.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues its deadly rush through the United States population, it’s unclear what that will mean for the 2020-21 basketball season. It’s a thought college programs are pondering while still mourning the loss of 2019-20 finale.
“I’m trying to stay optimistic and hope that, you know, the brilliant people in the world can get on top of this,” Jankovich said last week when asked about his thoughts on a potential 2020-21 season cancellation.
“But in the very back, back of my mind, I do see that scenario. I don’t think it’s real likely by then, honestly. But of course, with what we’ve seen in a few weeks, I think we all could say that any is certainly possible.”
The next college basketball season isn’t supposed to start for another seven months. So it will be a while before any such decisions would be made. In the meantime, college programs like SMU have to create some sort of continuity amid all the uncertainty.
SMU football coach Sonny Dykes and athletic director Rick Hart declined to be interviewed to discuss how the pandemic has impacted their day-to-day duties.
But Jankovich gave insight into his program, and said it’s been all about keeping consistent communication. He prefers to speak over the phone with his staff, as opposed to Zoom, the video conferencing app that’s become popular for many college programs. Jankovich still has to get on those for athletic department meetings.
The Mustangs are fortunate that there isn’t a real need to recruit players onto next year’s roster — unless Feron Hunt or Isiaha Mike both decide to remain in the NBA draft process. A lot of recruiting for future seasons is being done over the phone, as in-person recruiting has been banned by the NCAA until the end of May.
“We’re not in a situation where we have to get a bunch of players,” Jankovich said. “But at the same time, like everyone else in the country — I’ve talked to a lot of my coaching friends — you know, just calls and texts and try to move forward with recruiting. But it really is on hold. Some people are actually making decisions without visiting now, and I think you’re going to see more and more of that, which is very sad to me.”
Typically there are AAU tournaments, in-person recruiting, and a lot of other ways for schools and future players to link up around this time of year.
And it’s not the only thing at a standstill. Last week was supposed to be the coaches convention at the Final Four. But there was no Final Four and there were, comparatively, very few coaches that switched around jobs.
Many players are declaring for the draft, but there won’t be much of a chance for them to showcase their skills before selections are made.
All of these are among just some of the adjustments being made. And instead of coming back from a Final Four — as most head coaches do — Jankovich is at home figuring out what type of equipment the program is allowed to send its athletes, all of whom are at home.
The Mustangs performance coach Mark Mitchell has been in contact with players about staying in shape, even without the typical comforts of a basketball gym that many no longer have access to use.
“It is a time to be creative,” Jankovich said. “We’re trying our best, they’re trying their best, and the other side of that is, no one really knows when this thing really will — you know, when our lives will change back again. When they could get to facilities. Maybe it’s 30 days and maybe it’s a lot longer than that.”
But more than just physically and academically, Jankovich understands the mental toll this has taken on players, because it’s taken the same toll on him as well.
“We just call and see how they’re doing,” Jankovich said.
And so far, he said, they’re remaining resilient and optimistic. But as time drags on, that challenge will be even more tough.
“It’s like your life is like this rhythm of a season that always takes place,” Jankovich said. “And now it’s just completely upside down. But more than that — honestly, for me, your entire life is upside down. Everyone’s life is upside down. We’re all trying to find our way in a new reality that we don’t know how long it’s going to last.
“And I think it’s an incredible test for all of, us, every one of us. Coaches, players, you, everyone you know. And I think this is so much bigger than basketball. Honestly, I think it puts all our lives in perspective. And unfortunately, it’s a pretty tough way to do that. But that’s the way I look at it.”
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