Gulf Coast cautiously optimistic as conference play looms

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It's 2019.

That means many things, including that Panhandle Conference play is about to tip off for NCJAA basketball teams.

It might not seem possible--that it's 2019, that conference play is starting--none of it, especially because of how strange this season has been for Gulf Coast.

The Commodores lost more than three weeks of training time to Hurricane Michael. They lost the gym for a couple months, forced to practice and play on the road. Halfway through the season, the men's team has only played at home three times in 17 total games.

Ready or not, time to run the gauntlet. Three of the Panhandle teams are ranked in the national top 20 and the Commodores starts their slate at No. 4 Tallahassee on Saturday.

"I felt like the three and a half weeks of not having training in the month of October impacted us towards the middle of December because we had played fifteen games in a month and a half, but we hadn't trained for fifteen games in a month and a half," head coach Jay Powell said. "It took our wind. It took our legs. We were still able to win a few games, but we weren't playing with as much energy as we needed to."

Conditioning, team communication, lack of home games and the home gate that comes with it; in just about every way, they've been a bit behind all year.

They'll start the conference season at 12-5, realistically a huge long shot to win it. That said...who knows what the future brings for the next two months and especially next season.

"Will this team this year ever get to be as we can be? I'm not for sure because we're so young that we're always going to have so much room for growth," Powell added. "They're talented young men, they're just in their first year of playing college basketball, every single one of them except for Reggie Rivera. That's going to take a little bit of adjustment time and we hopefully though are going to make that a positive because we should be able to grow all season long."

Tip-off at Tallahassee is set for 5 p.m. Eastern.