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Newcomers and leadership highlight UNF’s first virtual Basketball Media Day

John Watson, Sports Editor

UNF basketball Media Day is usually a day where sports reporters from around Jacksonville get together, attend a luncheon and then speak to key coaches and players from both of UNF’s basketball teams. While most of the media day was the same this year, everyone was home or in their office in front of a camera instead of at the UNF arena.

It was an experience like nothing ever seen before in the history of UNF Athletics. Athletes could answer questions from their dorm rooms and members of the media had to use the Zoom chat to designate whose turn it was to speak. While media day from a virtual standpoint sounds different, it has become the new norm as COVID-19 continues to affect society.

With all members adjusting to the different circumstances, Media Day went well and important points were made throughout the Zoom call.

Here’s what went down:

Women’s basketball was the first team to go on and as head coach Darrick Gibbs started to make his opening statement from his office, it was all business and the Zoom call was full speed.

Throughout his opening statement, Coach Gibbs stressed the importance of his newcomers and getting better year after year. As the team has lost a few key players from last year’s roster, Gibbs feels that they have the length and the versatility to play at a high level. Gibbs also recognized that his team is ranked third in the ASUN preseason poll.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to really make a statement this year and do some really good things with the pieces that we have in play,” Coach Gibbs said. “I’m excited, I’m really looking forward to it and I’m excited for these young ladies to have hopefully the best year we’ve had since we’ve been here.”

After Coach Gibbs finished his statements, the floor was opened up for questions. When asked whether his team came back in good shape after quarantine, Gibbs chuckled and said “Did they come back in shape? No.” While the team was a little rusty getting back to campus, most players did not have access to a basketball court as parks and gyms were shut down across the country.

As for right now, Gibbs says the team is on schedule with where they want to be basketball-wise and with conditioning.

In addition to Coach Gibbs speaking, both Jazz Bond and Tiffany Tolbert were asked questions about their preparations for this season. With Bond being named ASUN preseason player of the year and going into her senior year, Bond spoke on what she wants to improve on this season and what her personal goals are.

“One of my personal goals this year is to be more consistent,” Bond said. “Last year I was a little bit inconsistent with my game. Some games would be good and then not so good the next game. To work on that, it all comes in practice and having consistent great practices everyday.”

Tiffany Tolbert who played a full season last year despite a nagging knee injury says she is more confident about her knee and talked about the struggles of dealing with her injury.

“I’m gonna be honest, I faked it until I made it at first,” Tolbert said. “I would try to wear a big smile and act like everything was okay but I was able to understand that the position that I am in doesn’t define what I bring to the table.”

As things were wrapping up on the women’s side, Coach Gibbs spoke on the conference scheduling and say’s that the increased depth within their roster will help them in back to back games. With a bunch of newcomers, the Ospreys now look to winning an ASUN Championship title this season.

As the men’s basketball portion of the zoom call was about to begin with head coach Matthew Driscoll’s opening statement, UNF Athletics Assistant AD for Communications Brian Morgan jokingly said “At this point I’ll let Coach Driscoll make an opening comment and probably answer all of your questions before you get to ask them.”

To that comment, there were many smiles around the Zoom room.

As Coach Driscoll took the floor, there have been many questions this year as to how the team would do without four of their five starters from last season. Driscoll noted in his statement that only Carter Hendricksen and Ryan Burhart had more than one year of division one basketball experience, yet six of UNF’s 13 scholarship athletes have been in college for three or more years. Driscoll stressed the importance that this team is not young, but lacks experience that will come with more practice and team scrimmages.

Driscoll also noted that due to the incoming team having a great deal of height and length, the offense and defense will be more while still playing their unique brand of basketball

“We know we’re going to shoot threes, we’re going to play zone, we know all that,” Driscoll said. “[We have] the greatest length we’ve ever had in the history of our division one program, so there’s a lot of things that are differences, yet the system is still going to have a lot of similarities.”

After Driscoll finished speaking, the floor was opened up as men’s basketball players Carter Hendricksen, Josh Endicott and Dorian James were made available. Senior Ryan Burkhart was scheduled to join but academic duties created a scheduling conflict.

Named to ASUN preseason all-conference second team, Carter Hendricksen is the only returning starter on the team this year as four spots are now up for grabs. Hendricksen is excited for his opportunity in the spotlight, and believes his conditioning is the highest it’s ever been. 

While Carter may be without his star players from last season’s roster, Coach Driscoll sees this as an opportunity to see Carter shine on the court.

“The one thing that Carter understands from long conversations over the last six months is that he’s no longer the guy nobody cares about,” Driscoll said. “Now, he’s the dude.”

Building on last season’s successes is going to a challenge for the Ospreys this season with such inexperience on the team. While Driscoll was not able to name a starting rotation, guys like Josh Endicott and Dorian James are expected to rise to the occasion this season and compete for a starting spot.

Josh Endicott may not have started his collegiate career playing basketball, but now says he’s more prepared and ready for this season.

“I finally started to fully grasp our concepts [last season],” Endicott said. “Where I came from in JUCO, it was a completely different way in which Coach Driscoll and the staff play here.

The shared thought from this year’s media day seemed to be that as both basketball teams lost key players from last season’s roster, they are still both in good positions to win now and have worked hard to make this possible. With both teams adding length and depth, it will be interesting to see who steps up to the plate and delivers when the shot clock starts counting down.

Other announcements from media day included UNF’s plan to have fans attend games this season, and athletics is working to sort out social distancing requirements before releasing an ultimate plan. 

The other big announcement is that both non-conference schedules should be out by the end of the week as UNF continues to finish up scheduling games and finalizing dates. Coach Gibbs gave us a little teaser earlier in the press conference by naming NC State as their opening contest and Miami, Auburn and Florida all being opponents this season. Gibbs also said that the schedule will be more regional this year to avoid flights and high-risk COVID-19 areas.

On the men’s side, most of UNF’s non-conference schedule has been reported on already, but Coach Driscoll added two new additions to the list as UNF will play their first non-conference home game on Dec. 7, against FAU. The other team added to the list is FIU.

While Media Day this year was anything but ordinary, it reminds us that the front office, coaching staff and players are working extra hard this season as uncertainty remains in the air due to COVID-19.

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For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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