If there's someone who can’t contain their excitement about PAC-12 basketball returning, it’s Oregon State head basketball coach Wayne Tinkle. At one point not long ago, however, Tinkle could be found more disappointed than excited.
It was only back in August when the PAC-12 conference made the decision to postpone all fall and winter sports until the next calendar year, after canceling all ongoing 2019-20 seasons outright on March 12.
“[I was] disappointed, obviously,” Tinkle said. “We were hoping that we could get back on track with the season on time. We certainly understood the reason behind it. We were hopeful we would have some more answers by November when basketball started.”
But when the PAC-12 conference reversed their decision and allowed their schools to compete in the men’s basketball season starting on Nov. 25, Tinkle could not help but feel excited at the idea of returning to the court.
Tinkle was thrilled about the PAC-12’s decision, but was more pleased with how he felt the conference prioritized the health and safety of the student-athletes.
“Obviously we were fired up,” Tinkle said. “The neat thing was they [Pac-12] did their due diligence in keeping the health and safety of our student-athletes at the forefront of their minds.”
Tinkle mentioned that he felt his players deserved the chance to compete again, having dealt with an unexpected end to a season that ended with a first-round win in the PAC-12 tournament.
“The look on our guys’ faces,” Tinkle said. “They’ve been through so much in a short time. It was neat to see them show some real exuberance.”
Although the head coach believes that this season will be different because there won’t be any fans in the stands, overall, he is just grateful that his players are allowed to compete, and that he is allowed to coach.
Even with the excitement of being on the court once again, Tinkle cannot help but feel a bit of disappointment that he and his team will not be able to share that excitement in front of a crowd at Gill Coliseum.
“It's tough because we really feel like we have a home-court advantage, and that’s taken away. But it's the same everywhere. Again, we understand why, and we’re just really thankful that we're going to be able to play,” Tinkle said. “We’ll follow all those rules and regulations and protocols just to have that opportunity. Hopefully, we can stay healthy as a team and have a complete year because you never know if there's another big spike or something goes on where they pull the rug out again.”
In an effort to make up for there being no fans in the stands, Tinkle has expressed to his team the importance of staying vocal on the bench to replace the energy that the team feeds off at home games.
“One thing going in, we’re going to make sure that our bench is way more vocal and active to help provide some of that noise and energy, but we’re pretty good at adjusting on the fly and we’ll have to look to do that,” Tinkle said.
In terms of ramping up towards the official first day of practice, the Oregon State players had already been participating in a more restricted form of training in preparation for their regularly scheduled practices.
“When we got back to school, we were allowed to start our preseason practices, which we were allowed 8 hours [a week] of full-contact [practice],” Tinkle said. “So we had two weeks of that before we started official practice. So we had probably eight practices that were very similar to what we do in-season.”
With fewer preseason practices, it was certainly different this year leading up to official in-season practice. Still, Tinkle was impressed by how excited his players were when the first day of practice came-- an excitement he hopes they will maintain as the challenges of preparing for a season amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
With health concerns still prevalent, Tinkle and the rest of Oregon State’s coaches and athletes have to follow all sorts of different regulations, including daily COVID testing, wearing masks in team facilities, and social distancing whenever possible.
Tinkle believes that, since the season has resumed, his players and coaches are following all of the required safety protocols.
“We’re getting tested daily. The [players] are, [and] the coaches are getting tested multiple times a week as well,” Tinkle said. “The coaches have to wear masks, and try to keep our six-foot distance away from the guys as best as we can. We’re reminding our guys when they're not around us… that they’re not in groups bigger than ten, they’re social distancing, wearing masks, and to this point, our guys have been really diligent along those lines.”
Although there has been no out-of-conference schedule release for PAC-12 basketball, Tinkle said that Oregon State is allowed to play seven out-of-conference games, along with their already scheduled 20 in-conference games. However, finding those out-of-conference opponents has been challenging, simply because each conference has different rules and regulations that each team has to follow.
“Right now, we get seven out-of-conference games. We’re having a hard time scheduling those because the leagues are so different with their testing policies,” Tinkle said. “We have a very stringent policy in the PAC-12, so [we’re] trying to make all that work. As well as [trying to figure out] the finances that some schools have some don’t. Some have travel restrictions. They can’t fly, they can only bus, so we’re trying to work through all that. But as it stands, we can play seven non-league games, and then the 20 PAC-12 games”.
Until a full schedule is officially released, the Oregon State Men’s Basketball team will continue to practice and get better at their sport, even if things are a little different. With preparations for the season looking different than they have in years past, Tinkle is stressing the importance of constantly learning on the fly, and adapting to playing a basketball season during a global pandemic.
“It’s hard to imagine. We’re not going to be nose to nose with the players in huddles and that sort of thing. We’re going to be as safe as we can, but we’re probably going to have to learn on the go,” Tinkle said. “I’m pretty passionate and love to chest bump with guys and head bump with guys and share that enthusiasm. I’m going to have to try and curve that a little, but it’s going to be different with not having fans in there, and your players usually feed off the noise and the crowd. But it's just going to be something we have to deal with and learn on the fly.”
Even in a season that will look and feel so different in so many ways, Tinkle and his players all share the same goals that they would have in any other season, and the coach believes that his team will do everything they can to accomplish those goals.
“If you look at some of the national publications, they’re picking us towards the bottom of the league,” Tinkle said. “But, I’m really excited that if we get to play a full slate and stay healthy, we’re going to compete for a [PAC-12] championship and have a chance to play in the postseason. I really do believe that. We’ve got a pretty dynamic group.”
The college basketball season is a few short weeks away from starting up again. On Nov. 25, NCAA basketball will resume for the first time since March 12, and coach Tinkle cannot wait to see his team in action once again.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys, some are a little further ahead than others,” Tinkle said. “[But] we feel really good about our group, and there’s going to be some new faces out there starting so I can say that. We’ve got a few weeks to go before we tip it up for real. It’s going to be an exciting team.”