This season will be like none other in the history of the Stockton University men’s basketball program.
COVID-19 has turned the winter sports season upside down for programs all around the country but the Ospreys are doing everything they can to make the best of a tough situation.
“I’m just happy we get to actually play,” sophomore guard D.J. Campbell said. “There are some schools around that don’t even have a season, so I’m just glad we have a season. It doesn’t matter if we only had three or four games even — I’m just ready to play.”
Stockton opens the season at home 6 p.m. Friday against defending New Jersey Athletic Conference champion The College of New Jersey. The game is a rematch of last season’s NJAC championship game.
Stockton will play an eight-game schedule. The Ospreys will play a home-and-home series with four different conference opponents — TCNJ, Rutgers-Camden, Rutgers-Newark and Jersey City. Playoffs are tentatively scheduled to begin the first week of March but details have yet to be announced.
“I’m ready to go,” Campbell said. “I keep telling the guys it’s right around the corner and we are ready to play. I’m anxious, especially after coming up short last year. I’m ready to run it back.”
Campbell graduated from Vineland as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He returns after averaging 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season as a freshman.
Stockton coach Scott Bittner said Campbell has the potential to be one of the top players in the NJAC.
“He had a great freshman year but he’s a completely different player than he was last year,” Bittner said. “As good as he did last year he has taken a really big leap forward this year. He has the chance to be as good, if not better, than anybody I have ever coached.
“He’s the hardest worker we have. He’s a basketball junkie and he’s got great size (6-foot-3).”
Wildwood graduate Kyion Flanders returns after leading the team in scoring last season with 14.2 points per game.
“Kyion is as good a leader as I’ve been around,” Bittner said. “He’s competitive and works hard every day. He’s really good vocally, he’s charismatic and he works hard enough where he can hold the other guys accountable.”
Tariq Baker and Luciano Lubrano (Ocean City graduate) are the team’s only returning seniors and will play a key role this season. Sophomore guard Rynell Lawrence (Millville) will see increased playing time this season.
“Five of our top six players last year were underclassmen, so when you think about returning that kind of youth that had that much success — we are really excited for the future,” Bittner said.
Stockton’s teams are being tested for COVID-19 three times a week and are doing everything in their power to ensure that the season goes on as planned. Like many programs, however, there have been hiccups with players missing time due to exposure or quarantine.
“I don’t know if we have had our full team for one single practice,” Bittner said. “It’s difficult because you have all these plans but it will be fun.
“The purpose of this season is to bridge the gap between this year and next year and to give the guys a little bit of experience. To me it’s not about winning games as much this year. It’s about giving them experience and getting them out of their dorm rooms and giving them some kind of hope. Creating experiences for these guys is the most important thing right now.”
Campbell and company just can’t wait to be back on the court competing.
“I think we can go back to the championship,” Campbell said. “We just have to finish the job this time.”