Benefield: Excitement turns to disappointment for Santa Rosa Junior College men's basketball squad
The Santa Rosa Junior College men’s basketball team had their walk-through Thursday morning and then headed out to lunch with the directive to be back in 45 minutes to board the bus for West Hills College in Lemoore and the program’s third straight trip to the Elite 8 in the state playoffs.
Then came a text from coach Craig McMillan, essentially saying “Take your time,” because a meeting was being held among California Community College Athletic Association officials to decide whether the tournament would even be held amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus. Then came the next text: It’s off. The season is over.
“It’s an empty feeling,” McMillan said after he broke the news to his team. “It’s a very empty way to end the season.”
The Bear Cubs said they sensed that CCCAA officials might shutter the three-day tournament. Officials had already made the call to play the games in an empty gym as a way to mitigate health risks.
But that was before the NBA, NHL and MLS suspended all games and Major League Baseball shut down the exhibition season, saying opening day will be delayed by at least two weeks.
The NCAA, which had moved, like the CCCAA, to play games in empty arenas, canceled its crown jewel basketball tournament altogether. No “One Shining Moment,” not this year, anyway.
“I had a feeling when they canceled the NBA season it might go that way,” McMillan said. “I don’t know of any sport that is still going. At this point, everything is canceled.”
And it all may be good and right and the best call in the face of the growing global pandemic, but no doubt it’s hard. And it’s not selfish to feel a little ripped off to have the final piece of the season, and in some cases careers, shut down.
Damian Wallace, a redshirt sophomore who prepped at Cardinal Newman, is done. The first team All-Big 8 pick will not suit up as a Bear Cub again.
“I’m at a loss for words, to be honest,” he said.
The guard had already wrapped his head around playing the tournament in front of empty bleachers. But as late as Wednesday afternoon, he seemed upbeat about the possibility that the Bear Cubs, seeded No. 3 in the north and scheduled to take on the mighty Huskies of East LA College, the No. 2 seed in the south, could turn the situation to their advantage.
“We are going to have to just use it to our advantage, bring our own energy,” he said. “We’ve had a good bench all year, so we are going to hope that they provide the energy that we need.”
They didn’t get that chance and every bit of that positive energy was sapped when I talked to him Thursday afternoon.
“There’s no completion to it,” Wallace said. “It’s difficult. It’s very difficult.”
I could hear the loss in Atmar Mundu’s voice, too.
Despite the wave of cancellations and postponements, Mundu said he didn’t see it coming — or perhaps he willed the possibility to the farthest reaches of his mind.
“It just sucks,” he said. “Playing without fans is one thing, but not to play? That’s a whole (other) story.”