Last year’s men’s basketball campaign was a tale of two halves. Propelled by a fast start and two upsets in conference play, the Pirates were riding high.
Then it all came crashing down.
Guard Jaren Sina left the team, freshman phenom Isaiah Whitehead’s play leveled off and rumors of a shady locker room began to surface. At the season’s end, the team’s leader in points and minutes, Sterling Gibbs, bolted for UConn.
The Pirates had transitioned from a feel good story, sitting as high as No. 19 in the AP rankings, to a soap opera.
Players were venting about the lows of the season on social media. The locker room, one filled with young players, was reportedly divided. Things fell apart.
But, with last year’s season well in the rearview mirror, Kevin Willard’s guys have made the decision to cut out the social media use altogether.
“I think it’s a great idea, just keeping all the negativity away,” Whitehead said. “We’re just trying to be one unit, one team.”
“We were very focused and we played very hard and energized at the start of last year,” Willard said. “And we were able to see what were able to do. When we were very unfocused and didn’t play with much energy and passion, we saw how quickly how bad we can be.”
Willard did note that teenagers being able to stay off social media is a lot easier said than done.
“I love it because they can just get some sleep,” Willard said. “I don’t have a group of guys that party; I have a group that’s on their phones on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and other things that they do. But I think its so hard today to stay off those things. I wish they would; there’s nothing good on there.”
Freshman forward Veer Singh, however, does not think the transition will be difficult at all.
“I never really had social media before (this year), so it won’t be that big of an adjustment,” Singh said. “But I think with Twitter, there is so much negative stuff out there. People are constantly hiding behind some other identity.”
A year older, the Pirates will try to tune out the noise, something last year’s team was unable to do once in the national spotlight. This year, it is all business.
“That’s what coach Willard is, he’s about business,” Singh said. “He’s not about a lot of fluff or anything extra, just straight between the lines – ‘this is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to do it.’ We’re not going to let any outside distractions get in the way of that.”
To keep things short and sweet on how the team will approach this season, Whitehead made it very clear.
“What happens here stays here.”
David Heim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @davidheim12.