There were high hopes for the Mansfield men’s basketball team this year.
A big freshmen class, led by Waverly standout Scott Woodring and Oneonta guard Graham Wooden, had the Mounties thinking big this year.
Now, everything is on hold.
The PSAC shut down winter sports this year, leaving Mansfield without a season.
“I think it is tougher on me than it is on them,” Mansfield coach John Szentesy said. “The offseason from last year, the recruitment class, it’s like everyone is happy, everybody is excited. Everyone is ready to get to work.
“I don’t know if it’s good, or bad, I’ve only had about seven players on campus this fall. With most of our classes being remote, many of our kids chose to stay home and not pay the room and board for the semester. It’s different without 15 of them here and that’s been challenging itself, keeping the guys not here engaged. It’s tough, the anticipating of looking forward to getting out there and getting to work, it’s definitely a tough blow. But, I hate to say it, it’s the right decision.”
One challenge for Mansfield is that it is a rural school, so kids are from all over the place. And, unlike some schools that have a full complement of scholarships, Mansfield has many players who are paying money to be at school.
But, Szentesy knows there are challenges at those schools to.
“The other schools that probably have kids closer to home, and full rides, they can bring everybody back, it certainly is an advantage for those schools that can do that,” Szentesy said. “At the same time, they have their problems with more cases of the virus and they get shut down. Even though you can bring them all back for a week or two, then you get shut down for two weeks.
“Fortunately for the seven I’ve had here, we haven’t had any shut downs with men’s basketball. We have been very fortunate there. We have been able to make progress this fall from August until now. It is different, the most local guys we have the Jon Ward’s and Scott Woodring’s (both from Waverly) are actually here most of the time, which is nice.”
As tough as things are, players and coaches are trying to look at positives this year. One plus for Mansfield is they have a young team, and the kids can kind of use this as a red shirt year.
“That’s exactly the outlook I’m having right here,” Szentesy said. “One of the transfers, who is a sophomore, who is not here right now, Gabe Perez, that’s the comment he made. It’s a redshirt year he said, it gives me a chance to get bigger and stronger and work on my game.
“If you are playing games every day, it’s an advantage over us. It’s good and bad I guess. I think I’d rather have us 20 hours a week of practice and lifting and games, because essentially everyone (whether they play this winter or not) is getting their eligibility back. Scott Woodring, I have for four more years, but he could have played this year and still had four more years.”
One big thing for Mansfield is just taking care of the things they have control voer.
“My message to our team is to control the contrables,” Szentesy said. “It’s easy to say you just have to block out everything you don’t have control over. We have four E’s we can control. Effort, energy, enthusiasm and execution. They are the four E’s I have emphasized more now than ever. And controlling the controlables, I think I say it every day now.
“It’s easy for a 19-20 year old to get caught up in I don’t know what is going to happen next year. You just have to keep working. You can’t control us not having a season. I can’t control that either, but I can control my attitude and a lot of other things.”
While the kids do get their year of eligibility back, it’s a tough choice for some kids on what to do, especially for the seniors.
Seniors are often graduating, and ready for life after college, and now they have to decide whether to go on after college, or come back to Mansfield, possibly for many on their own money.
“100%,” Szentesy said. “Eli Alvin, Richard Oppong, Jon Ward. Ward, still have a year of eligibility. Ward, he could stay on for his Masters, which I think he plans to do. ForJon it appears clearer, for Richard it costs a lot to go to Mansfield, but he will graduate in May and he has a year of eligibility. I had named Richard captain and he’s done a great job with that. We have to find the best path for Richard, whether it’s play one more year, or enter the work force, it’s a big decision and it stresses them out. The senior, it really impacts them more than anyone.”
The discussions with seniors are something that Szentesy has had to do before, when he talked to last year’s group of seniors.
“That’s the exact conversation I had last spring with Tyler Moffe and Riley Collins and Garrett Cook who completed degrees but had a year of eligibility,” Szentesy said. “I couldn’t convince Tyler Moffe, who worked extremely hard, I couldn’t convince him to come back and spend $10,000 to come back and play a year of basketball. I didn’t think it was right to try and convince him he should come back. And, I am happy I didn’t do that.
“He is having a great experience now and on the brink of having a season and we are not. I don’t want them (the players) to be 32 years old with a young family and owing money they borrowed to have a season. Moffe and Riley are business majors and Garrett Cook is criminal justice and we don’t have anything that resembles that as a masters degree. All of them wanted to stay, but it wasn’t the right thing for them to do with their future. I think we have a plan for Jon Ward though. It really impacts all of their futures.”
While it was tough to see Moffe leave, Szentesy knows it was what was best for his former guard.
“He’s at the Citadel,” Szentesy said. “When they recruited him I got to know the coaches fairly well and they love him down there. They called me and said he’s everything you said he’d be and maybe more. This is an opportunity for one year and now they are thinking maybe two years because he’ll get his eligibility back. They want him next year, I’m not sure what he will do. But, as far as I know he’s got a full scholarship at the Citadel. He’s in a position he doesn’t have any military commitment like a lot of them do.”
For the players, as tough as it is to lose a season, it’s been special seeing the reaction of the players.
“I love these guys,” Szentesy said. “I love this group. The announcement Tuesday night of our senior season being canceled was devastating. Wednesday morning I told the guys I’m going to be in my office, and we had guys go right to the gym and get a workout in. That’s the typ of thing winning teams do.”
The one thing that excites Szentesy for next year is that he has a talented freshman group, that want to be great.
“They have done a great job and they are focused, they are together,” he said. “They are excited and determined. I learned more with this recruiting class and how to build something this year coming in with seven freshmen instead of seven transfers like the year before. I’m not saying it’s a mistake (a lot of transfers), but it’s hard to build with. You can only have five guys that can play at one time and when you bring in seven transfers, with the guys that are already there, it’s hard to keep everyone hungry and focused.
“This group is hungry and humble. I think the recruitment of this class in intentional with the type of person we want to bring in. Culture is the word I’ve heard for a couple years. Tyler Moffe started changing the culture with his group. The new guys coming in are taking and following their footsteps, everyone is excited. Everyone is disappointed we won’t be able to be together, but I do think we will have in the spring semesters more players on campus. They want to be with their teammates, this is not normal. But, if they come to campus, I know they have to borrow extra money, but it could be helpful for their mental health to be with their teammates working out. It would be nice for me as well to work with a bigger group.”
With what players the Mounties have, Szentesy is anxious to see what they can do at the college level.
“Scott Woodring is phenomenal,” Szentesy said. “He’s everything coach (Lou) Judson said he’d be and maybe even more. He works so hard and that’s something that is contagious. And I have noticed with his roommate, Graham Wooden from Oneonta, is similar to Scott. It’s contagious to the other freshmen and Justice Smith. And Jon Ward fits in with those guys.
“I want to keep them all together and hopefully we can do that. I looked at the transfer portal the other day and 15 guys from the Ivy League (who shut down their winter season) were on it. I was like ‘Oh my God, that could happen to the PSAC,’ but it hasn’t and I hope it doesn’t.”