BY CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: 10 Mile Tipoff press conference at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Chris Mackowiak photo
Before the lights shine on Maggs Physical Activities Center this basketball season, both Salisbury University basketball teams will face their first test in another part of the city. The Wicomico Youth and Civic Center will play host as Salisbury’s respective basketball teams face the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s squads.
The exhibition games, known as the “10 Mile Tipoff,” will be the first ones of the season for both the SU men’s and women’s squads. After practice officially began on Monday, it will be the first test for either squad outside of practice.
“We have a strong history of basketball here on the Eastern Shore, from youth all the way up to professional,” Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism Superintendent James Simmons said. “There are those that have gone all over the world and played professionally, in college, in the high school ranks and grew up on the Eastern Shore.”
“We’ve been talking for years now with both schools individually about trying to get a game [at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center]. It’s great that both are able to come together and do this at once.”
The event is the first of its kind for the area. With just 10 miles separating each school’s main campus in Princess Anne, Md. and Salisbury, Md., participants see it as an ideal way to highlight collegiate basketball on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Proceeds from the event coming up on Nov. 1 will also benefit the local community in the form of a scholarship fund for the Wicomico Youth Basketball League, an official Jr. NBA program. Simmons stated that the scholarship fund will allow local families to be involved in the league at a very low cost.
“We see the 10 Mile Tipoff event as a way that we can continue that love of the game and start to feed it in through the youth of our community as well,” Simmons said. “[The league] is really focused on our youth sports fundamentals and our core values of fun, community, sportsmanship and skill development.”
The two women’s teams will play first during the night with a 6 p.m. tip-off. Their game will be followed by the men’s teams in an 8 p.m. tip-off. The event will also be allowing free admission to students of the two schools upon displaying their student I.D.s at the door.
As the first game against outside opposition, both SU head coaches see their first exhibition game as an opportunity to evaluate their squads and to test them against a team that may replicate some of their tougher opponents on the schedule.
“We’re very excited to have the opportunity to play in this new event with UMES,” SU women’s basketball head coach Kelly Baskow said. “To have the opportunity to play against a Division I school and to see the different kind of level and challenge that we’re facing really prepares us for our conference that is extremely competitive and goes far into the NCAA tournament.”
Monday was officially the first day of practice for both Salisbury teams. Baskow said that the first couple of days will be focused on hustle, grit, competitiveness and finding chemistry among a new, diverse group.
“I think it’s just about getting us to start to gel together, see what we have,” Baskow said. “We have half the team returning. The other half is new. It’s always interesting when you mix so many new people together, how we’re going to get our chemistry together and who’s going to fit in what pieces. I think that’s a lot of trial and error.”
The SU women’s basketball team comes into the new season off a campaign featuring a 15-11 record (10-8 CAC). The Sea Gulls fell on the road to the University of Mary Washington 50-42 in the CAC First Round.
The Sea Gulls return their top two scorers from a season ago in seniors Megan Konig and Kaylyn French. French additionally led the team in rebounding with 7.5 boards per game.
For Baskow, their first exhibition game of the season against UMES will provide an opportunity to grow during their preseason.
“Anytime we go into any scrimmage or exhibition game, It’s just about us, what we need to do to grow and get better, what we worked on and what works and doesn’t work,” Baskow said. “We always want to play the best competition we can because I think that’s gonna make us better.”
The SU men’s basketball team comes off their first season in the last four campaigns that the Sea Gulls did not make the CAC championship game. Salisbury finished the season with an 18-9 overall record (13-5 CAC), falling on the road at York (Pa.) in the CAC semifinals.
With new players coming into the mix this season, SU interim men’s basketball head coach Brian McDermott saw the first days of practice similarly to Baskow, adjusting new players to the program.
“This week, we’re going to focus on teaching the new guys how to come in and be part of what our regiment and discipline is,” McDermott said. “Which means we are going to jump on defense first, which we pride ourselves on. We’re going to build off from there and continue to get better.”
One of the eight Salisbury players returning to the men’s basketball team, Mike Ward, has a special connection to the contest. Ward’s father played for the Hawks in the early 1980’s. Now the Woodstock, Md. native will have a chance to face his father’s former team.
The play of the sophomore class which Ward is a part of could prove to be key this season with the Sea Gulls. Guards Johnny Fierstein and Gary Briddell also return for Salisbury as potential key playmakers alongside Ward.
Ward averaged 4.5 points per game and 10.8 minutes per game across 21 appearances last season. Another year removed from a knee injury in high school, Ward could see more production in the season ahead.
“It’s basically just about taking it one day at a time and finding out how to get stronger, basically just nursing it every single day,” Ward said. “Going in for treatments and just holding myself accountable to get stronger.”
“I learned that college is another whole level than high school pretty much, like everyone else learns. They’re quicker, stronger, more athletic. Basically, with the leadership from our captain last season, Chase Kumor, he showed me exactly what it means to be a leader, make tough decisions, make sure everyone is on time and prepared.”
The regular seasons officially begin later in November for both SU squads. The SU men’s basketball team tips-off the 2018-19 season by hosting Arcadia on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Maggs Physical Activities Center. The SU women’s basketball team also starts things off at home by hosting Virginia Wesleyan on Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.
“We’re going to practice as hard as they are,” McDermott said. “We’re going to do everything that a D-1 program does. Then, we’re going to show up the night of and see what happens. On any given night, anything can happen.”