ALBANY — Several days earlier than expected, the UAlbany basketball programs were allowed to start including 5-on-5 segments in their preseason practices.
In all likelihood, few were more excited about that development Wednesday than redshirt junior Adam Lulka of the men’s basketball team. The chance to start competing and scrimmaging with teammates is an important benchmark in what the 6-foot-8 forward from Australia hopes is a comeback year for himself.
“I know that what I am capable of, I didn’t reflect that last year with everything that happened,” Lulka said. “So, for me, I kind of want to prove a point this year that I am still a good player.”
Originally, UAlbany’s basketball teams were set to start 5-on-5 work next Monday as part of their athletic department’s resocialization plan amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Great Danes, though, received confirmation Tuesday they could start integrating 5-on-5 work into practices starting with Wednesday, but players participating in court work will still need to wear protective masks until Monday. Up until Wednesday, practice sessions could only include 5-on-0 work.
“Should be interesting,” UAlbany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown said. “We’ll get a chance to finally evaluate our guys.”
For Lulka, that means the start of an opportunity to compete for a starting spot. A year ago, Lulka was a lock to start in the Great Danes’ frontcourt, but his season was derailed after just a few games. A badly sprained ankle suffered in UAlbany’s third game never truly healed during the 2019-20 campaign, while a late-season concussion robbed Lulka of several more games.
In all, Lulka’s health woes resulted in a campaign that saw him miss 13 of the Great Danes’ 32 games and his statistical averages all take a hit from the previous season.
“And he didn’t forget how to play basketball,” Brown said last March of Lulka.
While restrictions related to the pandemic resulted in UAlbany not conducting summer workouts and a hampering of the program’s offseason fall workouts, Lulka was able to use the time away from organized team activities to make sure he was good to go for 2020-21. While his offseason was far from ideal — in Australia, Lulka worked out in his family home’s garage and bought a portable basketball hoop so he could shoot — it allowed the 245-pound forward time to recover.
“The offseason was great for me, in the sense that I had a chance to really rehabilitate my ankle and feel healthy again,” Lulka said.
As a redshirt freshman, Lulka averaged 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game, before seeing those numbers dip, respectively, to 4.3, 3.6 and 20.9 last season.
“Obviously, he has high expectations for himself, and I think if he is healthy and stays healthy, I think he has a chance to have a good year because we expected him to have a big year for us last year,” Brown said.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Brown said his program’s non-conference schedule remains far from finished, as teams across the country continue to scramble to schedule games.
Teams needed to start redoing their non-conference schedules after the NCAA moved the season’s start date from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25. Since that point, individual conferences and programs have made decisions regarding the playing of non-conference games and coronavirus testing protocols that have added confusion to the process.
“Scheduling has been a giant headache,” Brown said.
UAlbany is set to play games on Dec. 3-4 at Mohegan Sun Arena in the controlled setting being dubbed as “Bubbleville.” Brown said his program currently plans to play “three other games” before the America East Conference season starts Dec. 19, and that the Great Danes’ trip to Mohegan Sun Arena likely won’t serve as the team’s opener. UAlbany guard Jojo Anderson referenced Nov. 28 as a date for the Great Danes’ first game, but Brown did not confirm that.
“But let’s just say that our goal is to play a game before we go into the bubble at Mohegan Sun,” Brown said.
At Mohegan Sun Arena, UAlbany will play LIU and either Drexel or Quinnipiac.
UAlbany women’s basketball head coach Colleen Mullen said Wednesday after her team’s practice that Ellen Hahne had received an NCAA waiver granting her immediate eligibility for the 2020-21 season.
A 5-foot-11 guard, Hahne transferred in the offseason from Wake Forest to UAlbany.
“That is a huge, huge, huge win for us,” Mullen said.
A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Hahne appeared in 52 games during her two seasons at Wake Forest. She accumulated 43 points and 54 rebounds during her ACC career.
Mullen praised the athleticism and defensive ability Hahne brings to the Great Danes. UAlbany senior Kyara Frames likened the junior to the “Energizer Bunny” for her level of on-court activity.
“She’s very attentive. She’s very active on defense,” Frames said. “She’s strong. I think she’ll definitely be a key component for our offense and defense this year.”
Mullen said her program has “nothing finalized” in terms of its non-conference schedule, but that the Great Danes are targeting Nov. 29 for their first game of the 2020-21 season.