Emily Joss, Staff Writer
After losing to St. John Fisher in the first round of the Empire 8 Conference Tournament nearly an entire year ago, head coach Sean Coffey and the men’s basketball team are ready to step back on the court for a long-awaited season.
The Pioneers will begin their 2021 regular season Monday, March 1 against Elmira before the team hosts St. John Fisher on March 7.
Now beginning his fifth season with UC and coming off his most successful season yet, Coach Coffey is looking forward to how well his talented team will perform. The Pioneers had three all-conference selections last year – all of whom are returning this season.
Even yet, coach Coffey is always looking to improve and build off of last season.
“There are always areas that I am excited for us to improve and continue to work on for the future through our mistakes and where we may fall short,” he said.
With such a unique season underway, Coffey admits to the uncertainty of how much of the season the team will be able to complete; a pertinent concern as the team’s original home opener against Alfred on March 5 has already been postponed.
Despite these varying delays that the team is likely to face throughout the remainder of the season, Coffey believes that the team will be very competitive this year, and they are prepared to return to the Empire 8 tournament with expectations to finish on top.
“The players have a mentality of either we win a championship or it is an ultimately disappointing season,” Coffey said.
This season, Coffey is working with a well-experienced team composed of seven upperclassmen. Two seniors, Kemedrick Murphy and Kobe Lufkin, are showing promise in preseason practice, with Murphy displaying confidence and comfort at both ends of the floor and Lufkin proving how well he has matured and developed during his time at UC.
Of the remaining players, Coffey also has two returning members who received distinguished honors last season.
Junior Darius Hopkins is a returning 1st Team All-League player who Coffey believes will be making a run for Player of the Year this season.
“I intend on being a powerful asset to this team by making sure that I continue to put in the necessary amount of hours to stay sharp,” said Hopkins. “I’ve made a personal goal to get better each day and buy into the process.”
Hopkins knows that a successful season will require a team effort, and he believes that he and his team are up for the task.
“I also feel like we are a complete team, and everyone has a skill set that compliments each other. I hope we can win the conference this year and use that momentum going forward.”
One of the team’s keystone players is Sophomore Tommy Morreale. In his rookie season, Morreale was honored as the league’s Rookie of the Year. Although he is proud of this accomplishment, he is aware that there is still much work to be done to improve himself and benefit the team. All his focus is on this season.
Morreale also echoed much of Hopkins’ and coach Coffey’s expectations for the season.
“Our team’s expectations are to win and win as a team,” he said. “I know the pandemic has interrupted our season, but we still intend to pick up where we left off last year.”
Morreale is looking forward to a successful season.
“We fell short last year and we are now more motivated than ever to get there and win,” he said. “We have a great group of guys and lots of talent and I am very confident in what we can do. We have a great opportunity and we intend to make the best of it.”