It has been all business since the Neosho County Community College Lady Panthers returned to basketball action on Jan. 4.
Back on campus for the past two weeks – the team left just before Thanksgiving – the Lady Panthers have been participating in skill work and conditioning to ramp things back up for the start of the 2021 season. But before starting that, NCCC had to do something that all college teams have to do in the COVID-19 pandemic: get tested, social distance, sanitize and wear masks during as many stationary situations as possible, including film sessions and weightlifting.
To be able to play, NCCC head women’s coach JJ Davis said his team will need to follow these protocols. When those standards are followed, a clear understanding of what needs to be done for the upcoming season can then be set.
“The first thing is making sure our kids are mentally and physically healthy with this 45-day break, and that’s something that’s never happened before,” Davis said. “And you don’t want to hurt kids, no matter how much they go home and work out. It’s not going to be the same as a college basketball practice. (We’re) making sure we are doing it the right way, making sure that we are continuing to be good to our kids, making sure they are continuing to grind every day. And basically (making sure) they get 1 percent better than they were yesterday. And if that happens, then we’re going to be all right.”
Still, Davis is fighting to make sure his team stays that way. But there was no way the eighth-year head coach could predict how everything would look.
“When we signed up for this year, we really didn’t know what this was going to look like,” Davis said. “If you would have asked what it would have looked like in August compared to what it looks like now, I’d tell you that I wouldn’t have believed you if you would have told me it would look like this now. Our administration is trying to keep us safe, keep our kids safe.”
The entire team is now back on campus, fulfilling their basketball obligations. This time around, though, a new way of doing things has been implemented thanks to new assistant basketball coach Kenny Eddy.
Eddy, who went an overall 59-9 in his tenure as head coach at Pratt Skyline High School, including a State tournament appearance last year (2019-20) as a No. 1 seed, values defense. In fact, using his charismatic personality, Eddy has implemented a lot more defensive drills and philosophies in training than in years past.
This first year, Eddy has had a difference of opinion with Davis when it comes to how much focus should be on defense. But Davis has bought into Eddy’s defensive plan, acknowledging that this is the best way to advance further in the playoffs. Last year, NCCC’s women’s basketball program went 13-17 and advanced in the Region 6 playoffs for the first time since the mid-90s.
“Coach Kenny cracks jokes. He said something the other day that made me laugh: He said, ‘Coach, there’s only three defensive drills on this practice plan.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s three more than I ever had before,’” Davis said.
NCCC will be implementing these new defensive philosophies in an environment that won’t even have fans, at least early in the season. On Nov. 30, the conference voted to not allow fans to attend sporting events for the first month of the 2021 spring semester. As of right now, fans will not be permitted to attend events Jan. 4 to Feb. 5. The conference will revisit this topic in February.
“I think it’ll be bring your own energy. You have to bring your own juice,” Davis said. “And you’re going to find out how good teams really are. Some teams in this league have won some games because of their atmosphere. We’re going to find out if our atmosphere here helps us win games.”
NCCC men’s basketball coach, Jeremy Coombs, said things will be different without fans.
“It’ll be interesting. I mean obviously I haven’t been in that situation yet. It’s one thing to watch it on TV, but then all of a sudden you have to actually experience it when you’re on the sideline and you’re trying to coach,” Coombs said. “It is going to be interesting. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be expecting. I’m just hoping that we’re able to bring energy, when you know, a lot of times the fans are there and they’re yelling, they help create the energy.”
While there will be no fans for at least a short time, NCCC’s cheer team is permitted in the gym the same time as the players, though they won’t be traveling to road games.
The first women’s basketball game is slated for Thursday, Jan. 21, versus Bethel College at home.