The College of Idaho men’s basketball team was one of the first teams in the Treasure Valley to see games get canceled when the COVID-19 virus started to wreck havoc on the sports world March 12.
Nearly nine months later, like many teams throughout the country, the continued pandemic keeps forcing the Yotes to alter their schedule.
The College of Idaho opened its season on Nov. 27 with a 79-70 win against Montana Tech, part of a weekend tournament moved from Caldwell to Dillon, Montana. Since then, the changes to the schedule have come at a rapid rate.
Shortly after the win against Montana Tech, games the following two days against Montana Western were canceled. The Yotes then added four home games the following two weeks — two against Arizona Christian last week, two against Montana Western this week. All four of those games have since been canceled. Saturday’s Dickinson State scheduled to replace the Arizona Christian series was also subsequently canceled.
The Yotes did get one game in on Friday, a 86-49 loss to Boise State, which was scheduled less than 24 hours before scheduled tipoff.
“I think crazy is an absolute understatement right now for every team in America,” said College of Idaho coach Colby Blaine. “We are literally living hour to hour. It has been absolute chaos trying to figure out our schedule and provide our guys safe opportunities.”
The College of Idaho (1-1) also added another game against a NCAA Division I opponent over the weekend, a game Tuesday evening against Utah State. The Boise State and Utah State games are both counting games for the College of Idaho to make sure the Yotes are able to play the minimum 14 games required for the NAIA Tournament.
Blaine also said he’s had calls from two different PAC-12 schools in recent weeks, hoping to schedule a game on 48-hours notice. In both instances, Blaine said, things didn’t work out to get those games on the books.
Despite the ever changing schedule in a COVID-19 landscape, the Yotes have still managed to get on the court twice so far this year. After seeing the virus cut short their run at the NAIA Division II National Tournament in March, even that is a small victory.
“It was kind of a surreal feeling,” junior Jalen Galloway said about their first game against Montana Tech. “We got to the hotel the night before and were like ‘wow, this is actually happening. Eight and a half, nine months later we actually get to play once again.’ Even before the game, when we were getting ready, it was the same feeling. We just didn’t know when that opportunity would come.”
Galloway led the Yotes with 24 points, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half to give the Yotes the lead for good.
“I’ve never been so elated to be on a court, just playing and competing,” said senior Connor Desaulniers, who scored eight of his 10 points in the second half. “The gratification we felt getting back on the court and getting that win, that was one of the most gratifying wins I’ve had in my career. It was like a culmination of going months on end with a late season start, it was really enjoyable.”
Against Boise State, senior Ricardo Time scored 17 points and Galloway had 15. No other Yote had more than four points.
The two games so far, particularly the win against Montana Tech, have given the Yotes a chance to showcase some of their new additions. Eastern Washington transfer Elijah Jackson did a little bit of everything coming off the bench against the Orediggers, scoring six points, pulling down eight rebounds and leading the Yotes with four assists. Johnny Radford, a true freshman from Wood River High, also had a strong debut, scoring 11 points off the bench.
Blaine said Radford is as mature as any freshman he’s had in the seven years he’s been at the College of Idaho either as an assistant coach or head coach. And that showed in his first college game.
“His knowledge of the game, the way he plays it, his confidence, those are things you don’t see in a lot of freshmen in our program,” Blaine said. “I think the future is extremely bright. Our freshman traditionally come in here and play anywhere between five and 15 minutes per game. Johnny comfortably pushed 22 minutes the other night, and we’ll need him for more at times throughout the year.”
Blaine pointed to redshirt freshman Paul Wilson as another player who could step up big for the Yotes this year, even though he didn’t get much of a chance to show it in the opener. Wilson, a 7-foot post player, fouled out in just seven minutes of action. Against Boise State, he was in for 15 minutes and had two blocked shots and three rebounds.
“He’s got a great base, a really good foundation,” Blaine said. “He moves well, he really runs well. Having been in our program for a year, he’s starting to understand our concepts really well in his second year. But he is 7-feet, 250 pounds, so he can bring a physical force on both ends around the rim. He just has to continue to develop his mentality and learn how to use his body.”
Tip off Tuesday night in Logan is set for 7 p.m. The game will be streamed live on the Mountain West Network through Utah State’s website.