By Sean Chase
Due to COVID-19, The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team’s season has been shifted from the fall semester to the winter semester. Normally, the team would be in the midst of a season, but this year things are a bit different for the squad.
Instead of battling their way through conference play, second-year head coach Jeff Bauer and the GRCC men’s basketball team are stuck in limbo as more of their schedule is put on hold due to the most recent orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, restricting the start of contact sports until Feb 21.
“In a normal year for college basketball, conditioning and preseason stuff for the junior college world you start on Oct. 1, and then your games don’t start until November,” said Bauer. “You’ve got two months to iron out wrinkles, see what’s working and what’s not working, and try to give it your full go for conference play. This year’s going to be nothing like that, because of the starting and stopping.”
The constant cycle of starting and stopping began for the team in the fall, when they were allowed to come together as a team and get a month of practice in. Then all fall sports besides men’s and women’s cross country were shut down by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to ensure the safety of the athletes.
Once the fall semester had passed, the team began preparation for the adjusted season in early January. After only two practices, they were once again forced to find alternative ways to prepare for the season, which takes its toll on players.
“It’s been kind of a start and stop, which can play mental games with the guys,” said Bauer. “We just want to play and be on the floor. As it stands, we’re only allowed to go dummy practice. Which means we can’t scrimmage, we can’t go five on five, nothing that entails an offensive guy and a defender at the same time on the same basket. It has been a little challenging.”
“That’s to say nothing at all about conditioning, or the lack thereof, the guys, after we stopped practicing in the fall were off for two months. Plus, then we come back, get a couple of practices in January, and bam 10 more days right there.”
On top of the changes to practice structure, things have been different from Bauer’s first season at the helm of the GRCC men’s basketball team, on a few other fronts. The biggest difference is that student-athletes are being tested three times a week, due to COVID-19 guidelines from the MDHHS.
However, not all of the changes have been stressful, as the culture around the team has shifted in a positive direction. Bauer and his staff had more time to recruit local talent for the program as the pandemic pushed their season back, they were given more to focus on elevating the talent and mental makeup of the players they recruit.
“Last year was my first year, and we really didn’t have a chance to recruit, because I got hired so late,” said Bauer. “So we took some chances on some guys and some worked and some didn’t. But this year, I thought we did a really good job, our staff was really good about pinpointing talented guys, and you always want to start local. But the character box is one we really look to check off first.”
One of the local talents Bauer’s staff brought to the squad this season is Malik Clincy, a 23-year-old guard from Grand Rapids, and former Michigan Community College Athletic Association freshmen of the year during his time at Mid Michigan Community College. Where he averaged 16.5 points per game. Clincy hopes his skillset will add to the already impressive roster.
“I think I can be a leader to the guys,” said Clincy. “We’ve got a lot of really good young guys, and a mixture of older guys. I can score, but probably will be more of a defensive guy. Being able to lockdown perimeter players and if I have to switch on a big, being able to do that. More by being an all-around player and helping the team win.
The coaching staff is hoping that Clincy’s skills will play a large role in the success of the team this season, but that isn’t the only thing he brings to the table.
“Malik’s a good kid,” said Bauer. “We hope he is going to be a huge impact for us, not just on the floor but in the locker-room and mentally. Just having a voice as a guy who has kinda been there and done that. We’re looking for big things from Malik, and we’ve got some other transfers that have come in as well. I hope everyone makes an impact together.”
The team also picked up a couple of key sophomore transfers from the Chicago area, center Khyree Beyah from Richard J. Daley College and guard Isaac Anderson from Kennedy King. Bauer spoke very highly of all the additions to the team in episode two of the Collegiate Sports Podcast released on Jan. 27.
While the transfers will help to boost the chemistry of the team, Bauer believes returning sophomores will also play a large role for the Raiders when the COVID-19 shortened season tips off.
“Richard Major played a big role for us, Chandler Collins played a big role, D’Avery Moore, so we’ve got some guys who are veterans,” said Bauer. “Those guys, the character of people they are is why they’re back. Having them set the tone and know what’s going on, having the ability of not being in your first year, where everything is new to everybody. Just having some familiarity with the guys who know terminology, know verbiage, know what our pillars are, in terms of what we’re looking for, and can just help those new guys learn on the fly.”
Focusing on the character of the players in the program has created a group of guys willing to do what needs to be done to help their teammates.
“This year’s team isn’t selfish at all, that’s the biggest plus for us,” said Clincy. “We have a lot of people that can score, but we’re all pretty unselfish, and love to get our other teammates involved. We don’t have one player that’s just like ‘me, me, me, me.’”
Last season the team finished with a record of 16-15, and an 8-10 record in conference play. During the shortened season, teamwork and fundamentals will be extremely important to improve the team’s record. Clincy believes that getting out on the break, reducing turnovers, and playing sound defense will be the keys to success for them this year. Bauer cautioned that the offense will be shaky to start the season, but believes the team who plays the best defense will end up winning the conference.
The team’s first game is currently scheduled for Feb. 9, on the road against the Lakers of Mid Michigan College, but that game is very unlikely with the most recent extension of the MDHHS COVID-19 protocols. If the restrictions prohibiting contact sports from practicing aren’t lifted before Feb. 21, the team could start their season on Feb. 23, when they would welcome Ancilla College to the Ford Fieldhouse.