College basketball is on the way back

After months of uncertainty as to when the 2020-2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I (DI) basketball season will get underway, the NCAA made an announcement early Wednesday evening that the official start date will be Wednesday, November 25.

On March 12, the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included both the NCAA men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments.

“The new season start date near the Thanksgiving holiday provides the optimal opportunity to successfully launch the basketball season,” NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt said in a press release. “It is a grand compromise of sorts and a unified approach that focuses on the health and safety of student-athletes competing toward the 2021 division one basketball championships.”

This news is expected to create excitement for several Bahamian basketball players as they now have a start date and will continue to prepare for the season. This also means that Wednesday, October 14 is the official date for the start of practice sessions since that is six weeks prior to the November 25 start date.

Originally, the start date was set for November 10. In addition, the 2021 NCAA DI men and women’s national basketball tournaments will take place.

Teams must play a minimum of 13 games against NCAA DI opponents in order to be considered for NCAA championship selection.

The head coach for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels women’s basketball team, Bahamian Yolett McPhee-McCuin, will look to turn things around for her team this season. She welcomed fellow Bahamian and senior guard Valerie Nesbitt back to the fold.

On the men’s side, redshirt sophomore transfer Franco Miller will look to make an immediate impact for the Florida Golf Coast University (FGCU) Eagles. Looking to improve on his freshman year for the Rebels is forward Sammy Hunter. Another player to keep an eye on, is explosive University of Texas Longhorns sophomore center Kai Jones. Looking to get his team back to the NCAA national tournament is senior Charles Bain who plays for the Robert Morris University Colonials.

This past season, Bain and the Colonials won the Northeast Conference (NEC) title to earn what would have been their first March Madness tournament appearance since 2015.

Bain averaged 6.4 points per game last season. He pulled down an average of 3.7 rebounds per game and dished out one assist per game.

He scored a season-high 17 points and had six rebounds against the St. Francis University Red Flash on February 18.

McPhee-McCuin will start her third season for the Rebels. She and her squad will look to improve on the 7-23 overall win-loss record from a year ago. They finished at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) with a winless 0-16 conference record.

Nesbitt is making her return to the Pavilion at Ole Miss after being dismissed for disciplinary reasons last season. The 5’8” point guard started 11 of 15 games for the Lady Rebels last season, helping them to a 7-8 record, 0-2 SEC, before she was dismissed. She was averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.0 steals on the season in 24.3 minutes per game. Nesbitt was second on the team in scoring and led the team and the SEC in steals. She was tied for 15th in the country in steals, up until the time she was released.

With Nesbitt back in the fold, and playing alongside some top recruits and transfers, McPhee-McCuin can navigate her way to higher heights in a tough SEC.

Miller is coming off a tumultuous season for the Rebels, not seeing much playing time as the Ole Miss Rebels featured a veteran backcourt. He played just 85 minutes last season, with a significant portion of his playing time coming against the University of Arkansas Razorbacks when he stepped on the court for 24 minutes. Miller started one game last season and averaged 0.3 points and 0.5 rebounds per contest. The move to Fort Myers, Florida, to play for the FGCU Eagles, should allow him to play more minutes during his 2020-2021 campaign.

It was a year of learning for Jones, who is ready to get his sophomore campaign underway. Jones and the Longhorns finished the 2019-2020 season with a 19-12 win-loss record, 9-9 in Big 12 Conference play. Jones ended the season averaging 3.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, while playing 16.7 minutes per game.

The focus will be on him this season as he was named to Sport Illustrated’s Top 30 2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft Big Board this summer.

In the second-to-last game before the season got canceled in March, Jones erupted for 20 points, seven rebounds, two steals, one assist and one block against Oklahoma State University. That was his best statistical game of the season. He played 32 minutes and shot a blistering 66 percent from the field.

An uptick in Hunter’s number is expected this season as well. He averaged 2.9 points and 1.3 boards per game, playing an average of 12.1 minutes per game. He played in 27 games last season and started in one. He scored a career-high eight points in a win over Western Michigan in November.

During the transition period from September 21 to October 12 this year, teams may partake in conditioning, sport-related meetings and skill instruction for up to 12 hours.

Exhibitions and scrimmages before November 25 will not be allowed.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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