For many sports fans, basketball fans especially, it’s the best time of year. It means exciting basketball from every direction whether you are fan of a particular team or just a fan of the sport, there are few times of year in sports which are better.
The feeling is mutual for both the fans tuning in and also the student-athletes participating. But for those student-athletes, March means schedules and a lifestyle that is unlike anything they will experience in any other stage in their lives.
The Arizona State basketball team is right in the thick of the march into March Madness. For head coach Herb Sendek, there will be many game plans he creates for ASU’s opponents but also a game plan off the court which is just as important.
The Sun Devils just finished a four-game stretch where there we no more than two days off between game days.
“We’ve had a steady beat with that if you go back,” mentioned Sendek. “We played Sunday (at Utah), two days, Wednesday (vs. Stanford), two days, Saturday (vs. Cal), two days, at Oregon. So we haven’t had that third day where you would typically get some rest.”
“Also if you consider the Pacific Time element, for the fourth consecutive week we have a mid-week, nine o’clock tip off,” he added. “So it takes a great physical and mental constitution to be at a high level for guys who are also going to college and taking full course loads.”
Because of this tough stretch of scheduling, Sendek decided to change some things up this week. While on the Colorado, Utah road trip, the Sun Devils played Wednesday in Boulder and then had three days off on the road before the game Sunday against Utah. Sendek noted that he felt the team was “stale” after a long week. So instead of dealing with that once again in Oregon with three days between games, they decided to fly home last night after the game in Eugene.
“This trip is even one day longer,” Sendek noted. “If we didn’t come back, we would essentially be leaving Monday and staying through Saturday just to play two basketball games. Essentially the guys miss a whole week of school.
The school element of all this is what seems like the most daunting task for the athletes. Yes, spring break conveniently falls on conference tournament week, yes more and more student athletes are taking online courses and for ASU in particular, there are a solid amount of seniors that don’t have a hefty work load at this point anyway. But the deeper and deeper teams play into March, the more demanding it can be on the student aspect of the student athlete.
“Sai Tummala is pre-med,” mentioned Sun Devil senior center Jordan Bachynski. “He is constantly studying and I don’t know how he does it. And it is really, really tough for majors that even aren’t as difficult as pre-med. You really have to focus, you really have to put other distractions aside and prioritize what is most important.”
“Guys really have to be self-motivated and focused during these weeks when there is obviously so much emotion around college basketball and there is so much travel involved,” Sendek added.
This is why, as the Sun Devils aim to make their first appearance in the NCAA’s since 2009, the off-the-court scheduling and management is just as big of a game plan in the ladder stages of the season is as important as the game plans on it.