Allen Basketball

Allen head boys basketball coach Joe McCullough has spent his week reworking the Eagles’ schedule for the 2020-21 season following the UIL’s decision to cancel all non-district tournaments.

Although much of the attention from Tuesday’s announcement by the UIL on the delay of fall sports centered on football, the modifications to the athletics schedule had basketball coaches scrambling as well.

As programs prepare for the start of the 2020-21 season in November, they’re doing so without one of the central aspects of their non-district schedules after the UIL’s decision to scrap all tournaments and showcases for the upcoming season.

“I think we all expected something to happen just to try and take away some of the uncertainty,” said Joe McCullough, Allen boys head coach. “Unfortunately, I think this is just the plan right now and things could very well change over the next several months depending on how things go — for better or worse. It just depends on how we do as a society handling this pandemic.”

In previous years, the UIL has afforded teams up to three preseason tournaments — games that comprised the majority of their schedule prior to district play. But with those events comes a wealth of teams and fans clustered at a certain venue — something that the UIL is attempting to curb due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With the UIL restricting its public schools from competing in tournaments and showcases, a number of events have already cancelled for the 2020-21 season, including wintertime staples like the Sandra Meadows Classic and the Whataburger Tournament. In Allen’s case, that means a year without their two host tourneys, the Allen Lady Eagle Hoopfest and the Allen In-N-Out Burger Holiday Invitational.

“It’s a real big showcase event for us because it’s at our place and it’s a big deal for our kids,” McCullough said. “It’s also a big deal getting ready for district. At that point, we know who we are and are trying to add some new wrinkles for district, so missing out on that is big for us and for all teams.”

“You’re playing high-level teams and so many games in one setting,” added Jessica Linson, Plano East girls head coach. “Not having those, you have to seek out that type of competition that you wouldn’t normally have. There’s a balance because you’ve got to keep your kids healthy so now scheduling, where you place games, who are you playing pertaining to district play, it comes into a play a little more.”

The UIL also stipulated that teams can play a maximum of 27 games in the regular season — something that requires careful consideration as well.

“It’s a balance of what type of competition you want to play,” Linson said. “For us, we’re beefing it up. Me and coach Robinson at DeSoto are talking about playing. I’m working to confirm a game with Duncanville. I feel like a lot of the contenders are reaching out to each other and I think you’ll see more top teams play in the area because now you’re short games and trying to get your team ready in a short amount of time.”

Linson added that because of the types of games her team figures to play, coupled with her players’ rigorous offseason commitments playing AAU ball, that she might use some of those openings in the schedule for rest instead. As she finalizes her team’s schedule, Linson estimated around 22-25 regular-season games for the Lady Panthers.

McCullough, meanwhile, plans to test the Eagles early on with a Nov. 14 season opener against a Richardson team that was ranked No. 6 in the state last year. The coach added that Allen could rekindle a longtime rivalry with former district bunkmate Plano East during the holiday break in late December.

The UIL’s changes to the basketball schedule will carry over into the postseason as well, doing away with regional tournaments. For years, those events have encompassed the fourth and fifth rounds of the postseason, featuring four teams at a single site playing three games over two days — two regional semifinals on a Friday followed by a regional final on Saturday — to determine the state tournament qualifier from a specific region. Those two rounds will now take place a few days apart — Feb. 22-23 for the girls’ regional semifinals and Feb. 26-27 for the regional finals, followed by March 1-2 for the boys’ regional semifinals and March 4-6 for their regional finals.

“If anything, I think it makes it easier to prepare for your opponents,” McCullough said. “Playing an opponent at 8 p.m. Friday and then turning around to play a different team Saturday at 1 p.m. was always really tough. We were lucky the years we were there that we made those adjustments quickly, but now it gives you  a little more time and treats it like a regular playoff game.”

The trickle-down effect is far-reaching as basketball programs prepare for a season already undergoing change. Coaches like McCullough and Linson are mindful that the current itinerary could change given the nature of the pandemic, but are nonetheless glad to have a roadmap toward the start of the season.

“Obviously, the UIL is trying to make decisions for the safety of the kids and coaches,” McCullough said. “It does create a little bit of an inconvenience, but it’s still better than cancelling the season or playing only a district slate. Right now, things are positive and we’ll see what happens going forward.”

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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