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COVID-19 has led the college to cancel all sports for the entire fall semester. This includes the LPC men’s basketball team, which had high hopes for returning to the playoffs this year despite key departures from last year’s team. 

The cancellation of sports has affected the basketball team in other ways as well. The team usually trains throughout the summer and fall leading up to the season, but they were not allowed to meet in person due to the guidelines set by LPC. This meant players are required to come into this season in shape and ready to hit the ground running when the season starts in January.

The shortened season means that players will have little to no time to build team chemistry on the floor. The coaching staff will have to prepare for new players learning the system on the fly while also getting returning players ready to overcome new challenges that they haven’t faced before.

But the team has found a way to stay connected throughout the fall semester through Zoom calls and online learning. The coaching staff has made it a priority to ensure the players stay in shape and connected throughout the pandemic.

“Everything we do has had to happen a lot more remote. More phone conversations, more Facetime calls. We have had a lot of Zoom meetings with parents. Every team is on the same boat, but we’re just trying to navigate it a different way and try to do the best we can with what we’re working with right now,” said head coach James Giacomazzi.

The Hawks finished the season on a high note last year. They went 20-9 and made it to the Norcal Regionals as the 13th seed. Three players made the all conference team, including forward Michael Hayes, who went on to become the MVP for the state and commit to playing for Chico State this upcoming season.

The Hawks are hoping to continue their success into this year by going back to the state playoffs and competing for another state title.

“Our goal every year is to win a state title,” said returning point guard Nikko Echalas.

The making of a state title team is not a fast process. Teams train and prepare months before the season starts to ensure they are ready for the long season ahead. That is why missing the summer and fall is a big blow to the Hawks as they  are eying another state title run.

One of the bigger issues facing the Hawks during this time is getting the players to keep their minds on basketball. Players were tasked with getting themselves in shape instead of going to team workouts in the summer and fall. 

“We’re trying to keep them active. Obviously mental health is such a huge point right now. Guys are in the house, and we’re really focusing on getting guys to exercise and stay in shape before the season starts,” said Giacomazzi.

A shortened season means that players will have less time to prepare for games that will mean more down the stretch. The team does not have much room for error as most games will be against conference opponents that will count towards their playoff bid.

The team lost many key players last season and have reloaded with a batch of freshmen that still need to adjust to the new system. Coaches have also had to have more meetings remotely to discuss scouting, player development and strategy. 

Giacomazzi is hoping that these Zoom meetings will be helpful in speeding up that process. Not being able to meet in person is a setback, but it is a disadvantage that most college teams in the state have as well. Every team is finding its own way to keep players engaged and focused on the upcoming season.

On top of coaching, Giacomazzi will be juggling the role of Athletic Director, a position he has accepted this year. Despite the heavy workload, Giacomazzi says he is comfortable in his new role.

“I’ve been an assistant Athletic Director for so many years now that I feel like I’ve been trained well to know how to handle the responsibilities. I feel like I can make a good difference in the whole athletic department for the positive as well as to continue my role and do great things as a coach here for our players,” said Giacomazzi.

The team will have high expectations for this year, boasting a solid recruiting class along with experienced veterans from last year’s team. The pandemic has shortened the season, but the Hawks are preparing to make another state title run. If all goes well, the team should be in the hunt for a conference title, but more importantly, a shot at a state championship.

Nathan Canilao is the editor-in-chief of The Express. Follow him @nathancanilao.

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