By Danny Priest
The last time the Springfield College men’s basketball team stood on the hardwood inside of Blake Arena for live game action, their hearts were broken.
Hobart’s Dan Masino hit a driving layup in the closing seconds of the round of 32 matchup to send the Pride and a fully packed crowd home disappointed.
It was the end of the Jake Ross and Heath Post era for Springfield – one marked with excellence, broken records and a ton of on-court success. While the Pride knew a transition was coming, no one foresaw the entire 2020-2021 season being upended due to Coronavirus.
The season itself may not have occurred, but Springfield does plan to get back onto the court in April for at least a few games. The team had been scheduled to play at Roger Williams University on April 2, but that game has been cancelled due to COVID complications.
Barring unforeseen issues, the Pride still have three games slated to happen. They hope to play April 7 at home against Wheaton; April 10 on the road at Trinity; and back home on April 14 to face Elms College.
Things will look different. A lot different. However, it’s still a chance to go out and compete as a team. A welcomed opportunity after everything that’s unfolded since last March.
“Just playing together, competing together and going to battle together, there’s nothing like it,” said senior Harper Niven.
Niven is the lone senior on what’s just a nine-man roster for the Pride this season. He holds down the big man rotation with freshman Cam Garber.
The Pride have first-years Zeke Blauner and Nick Bray in their backcourt, along with juniors Daryl Costa and Casey Lane. The wing rotation consists of sophomore Pete Kapanides and juniors Collin Lindsay and Joe Fontanella.
Players to watch
With Ross and Post gone, the Pride are going to need to replace a ton of production in their lineup. Costa, Niven and Lindsay all saw time in the starting lineup last season and will need to fill increased workloads going forward.
For Costa, he spent his summer working on his individual game. His first two years saw a lot of spot up shooting due to the attention Ross and Post received, now that’ll be changing to see more ball handling and shot creating responsibilities.
“I’ve been playing a lot of point (guard) and I think it’s helped my game a lot,” Costa said. “I think just the mental aspect of it and reading the game, reading and reacting, I’m excited for this opportunity to have the ball in my hands a lot more. I think I’m ready for it.”
Last season, Costa shot at a 36.3 percent clip from three-point range on nearly four attempts per game. That, like nearly all other aspects of his game, were up from the marks he recorded as a freshman and is a trend his team hopes to see continue.
A unique element to a now guard-heavy Pride team is that Costa’s backcourt mates will be two first-year students and a junior in Casey Lane, who has not played since the 2018-2019 season.
Lane was out all of last season due to injury and has looked strong upon his return to the court.
“Casey’s really been playing great and he’s fought back from a serious knee injury and has looked great,” said head coach Charlie Brock. “He brings a little bit of an interesting twist because we can swing him from guard to wing and have a three-guard group on the floor at the same time.”
On the inside, Niven is looking to fill a void on the defensive end that Post had held down for the better part of the past four seasons.
“Something that Heath did super well that you wouldn’t see in a box score is he talked super well defensively,” Niven said. “He was kind of like our quarterback on defense, if you will. We lost that obviously with him being a senior, so I feel like I need to step up and take that role defensively.”
Niven’s energy and activity is a nice change of pace from the skill set Garber brings to the table behind him.
At six-foot-eight and 235 pounds, Garber provides some shooting range and passing ability that will make the Pride offense a bit more unpredictable.
“Cam and Harper, completely different guys basketball wise, but each brings a little something to the table. It’s going to be interesting to see how we take advantage of what they bring to the table in their skillset,” Brock said of his big men.
“Cam is a little bit bigger, not quite as fleet of foot, but has excellent vision of the floor and can pass the ball. I foresee him as kind of a point forward, point center in the future. That really is a great thing and he can knock down threes from up top,” Brock said of the first-year big.
The roster is a unique mix of young guys and players who have been through it before, but the excitement to compete is shared by everyone.
The amount of games Springfield actually plays remains to be seen, but the chance to just get onto the floor in general is something everyone is looking forward to.
Winning matters, but so too does learning more about the roster that exists now.
“We don’t ever go on the floor when there’s a score kept and not make every attempt to be successful. Whether or not that’s winning, I wouldn’t call it as much winning as just doing things successfully, functioning successfully, sharing the ball, looking for options, taking advantage of each of their individual talents and putting to use what we’ve been practicing for the last couple of months,” Brock said.
No matter how much time has passed, the memory of last March still holds as a motivating factor for guys to keep improving.
“At least for me, being in the game that last possession, I always think about it….I still, to this day, I see that last floater going in,” Costa said.
“I wouldn’t say it traumatized me, but I think that’s the thing that motivates me. It was a very tough loss, that’s what pushes me every day. I’ll think back to that and I’m like ‘Damn, we should have won that game,” he added.
It may only be three games, but it’s still a chance to play. Plus, the last time Springfield had nine active bodies on their roster, they got to a final four.
There’s no postseason this year, but maybe nine is a lucky number for Brock and his team.
Photo Courtesy of Joe Arruda