The clock struck triple zeroes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City after a game in front of nearly 11,000 fans The Rock’s men basketball team was ready to head home and prepare for their season. It’s been quite some time since the Slippery Rock men’s basketball team took the court, but getting their feet wet was exactly what they’ve been waiting for.
They came away with a 99-47 loss, but they were facing a team that just a year ago made it to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Behind Luke Garza, The Hawkeyes had themselves a solid season. The Rock didn’t even have the opportunity to pick up the ball against an opponent. Matter of fact, when the ball was tipped in Iowa it was the first time the Green and White had played since the start of March in 2020.
“It was a good experience for the guys, and we were without three projected starters, who missed the trip, but it was good for the guys who were there, and I think we found some things out about ourselves,” Coach Ian Grady said. “A matchup against a team of that caliber heading into the season can only help.”
When The Rock last played a competitive game, they were led by Micah Till. Two years later, there is no Till or Will Robinson Jr., and just like every other team on campus, there are a ton of players with little to no experience here at The Rock, and although they lost by 52 points to The University of Iowa, that experience will be huge down the line.
“It was crucial, you know? We had two closed scrimmages, but those are different than exhibitions,” Grady said. “At the exhibition game you have a real atmosphere and fans, so it’s really crucial to have those.”
The game served as the introduction to new players like Tyler Frederick and Earl Baker Jr., both of whom transferred to The Rock. Fredrick came from La Roche University, and this season Grady expects him to make a big splash for The Rock.
While there was the obvious COVID-19 pause, Grady believes that the challenges remained sort of the same. For both men’s and women’s basketball, the teams had to wear masks while playing their sports during the last year. Now, neither team has to wear masks while they play, but the challenge remains getting the team to know each other better and build chemistry.
“We really didn’t focus on last year, I know that different players weren’t able to play in games and we have some transfers that did, but it’s just a matter of getting the new faces with the returners,” Grady said.
Although the COVID-19 vaccine is available, not everyone has gotten it, which means that testing is still taking place weekly for some players. Grady has made it clear one of the main goals of the season is keeping players healthy, but also said he’s just happy to finally be back out there.
“I’m just glad that we’re able to have everyone there and we’re able to have somewhat normalcy at practice and games, and it is a challenge hearing with masks on, so we’ve had to do a better job at that,” Grady said. “It is what it is though, and I don’t like to focus on the obstacles, I’m just happy we’re able to be back out there.”
Now the focus shifts to the season, where The Rock is picked to finish sixth in the PSAC West. Only two years removed from a trip to the PSAC tournament, The Rock now finds themselves in a spot without very many veterans and a newer team.
“It was kind of expected for us to be picked where we were, we lost a lot from the last time we took the court and I think when you lose a lot from a previous year’s team, people will pick you lower,” Grady said. “You can use that as motivation, because preseason rankings are exactly that, preseason rankings.”
The Rock kicks off their season against Notre Dame College this Friday, and it’ll be the first time they’ve taken the court against a Div. II team since they were eliminated from the PSAC tournament against University of Pittsburgh Johnstown. Much like the women’s basketball team, they’ll kick off PSAC play very quickly with a game against East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.
Something that makes things very interesting is the fact that if a player is to get COVID-19 or be exposed to it without being vaccinated, they must quarantine. While it hasn’t been seen too much in the fall seasons, it’s worth noting because basketball is played indoors, which leads to whole different set of rules.
“You always are looking over your shoulder about the event of a quarantine, if an individual on your team tests positive or is exposed, and that could be a potential challenge,” Grady said.
While everyone sets goals for the season, The Rock has a different set of goals than what people would think. While the goal of winning the PSAC is still ultimately there, one of the goals is to take things one day at time.
“We just try to take it one game at a time, and we’re focusing on the next opponent and taking care of business there,” Grady said. “Obviously we have some other goals, but we want to try to focus just one game at a time and not look ahead.”