It’s going to be a new look University of Vermont men’s basketball team, whenever the 2020-21 season kicks off. That’s something that Lenox’s Bailey Patella is excited about.
“We’ve got some new guys coming in — some transfers and one freshman — and all the returners,” Patella said. “It’s going really well. We all get along really well as a team and we’re practicing really hard.
“Even though we don’t know what’s going to happen with the season, I don’t think anyone really knows, but we’re still working.”
Patella is one of three veteran seniors on a UVM squad that went 26-7 last year. Head coach John Becker announced on Tuesday that Patella, Ben Shungu and Stef Smith will be tri-captains for the Catamounts.
Since the former Lenox High School and Vermont Academy standout arrived in Burlington, the Catamounts have gone 80-23. Patella’s teams went to postseason tournaments in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, UVM lost to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Hartford, Conn. The year before, UVM lost on the road at Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NIT.
The ex-Millionaire averaged 3.7 points and 3.5 rebounds last year, and was one of four Catamounts to play in all 33 games. He was third on the team with a 51.7-percent field goal percentage and his 114 rebound total was second among reserves. Patella was fourth on the team with 27 steals.
Five of the Catamounts’ top seven scorers, Patella is in that group, return. But two-time America East player of the year Anthony Lamb has graduated. Lamb had team highs in points (16.7) and rebounds (7.1) per game. But while No. 2 scorer and first-team America East pick Smith, is back, the loss of Lamb will adjust how coach John Becker’s team will play.
“I’m still going to be that energy guy that I was last year, and continue with that role. This team, we play fast, and I think that plays into my skill set as an offensive player,” Patella said, in a phone interview with The Eagle from his Burlington, Vt., residence. “We’re going to play different on offense this year with Lamb being gone, obviously. I think everybody’s going to have to step up with that big gap.”
Patella is one of three seniors who played key roles for the Catamounts last year. In addition to Patella’s big role coming off the bench, Smith is the top returning scorer at 14.2 points per game, and he was first-team All-America East last year. Redshirt senior Shungu was the conference’s defensive player of the year.
“With Lamb gone and Everett [Duncan] gone as well, there’s definitely some big shoes to fill,” Patella said. “One of the biggest roles for me was, and is, stepping up as more of a leader. Making sure I’m being consistent in practice, I’m talking with the new guys in practice, getting them up to speed.”
In three years at Vermont, Patella has been on teams that have won four straight America East regular-season titles, and seemed poised to make its third NCAA trip in four years when the COVID-19 pandemic stopped college basketball in its tracks last March. Vermont was getting ready to host the America East Tournament title game.
Which means the Catamounts are the team to beat, not just this season, but in much of the last decade. That obviously puts a target on the backs of the players and coaches, and that’s something that pushes Vermont.
“It’s always good to have a target on your back, I think. But at times it can be easy to let your guard down,” Patella said. “I think, consistently, knowing that people are out to get us and they want to beat us, and every time they play us it might be one of the biggest games of their year, you have to come ready to play.
“That starts in practice, and even now, we’re going hard and getting prepared for the season.”
Patella and the rest of the Catamounts have been practicing since the middle of the month. And while they don’t know when games will begin, everything on the UVM campus has been going as smoothly as can be.
“It’s been weird, honestly,” he said. “It’s been an adjustment. Classes are going well. I have a couple of in-person classes and the rest are all remote. I still meet at the same time. It went well at the beginning of the semester, then it kind of got old for a little bit.
“I’m used to it by now.”
The UVM wing said that going to class, both in person and remotely, has been a little easier since practice started. He said that practice is set after class, so the day is more regimented than it was in the days before practice began.
As to the season ahead, America East has announced that it will play an 18-game, double round-robin schedule. Teams will host games on Saturdays and Sundays against the same team. For example, Vermont could host New Hampshire on one weekend in January, while traveling to Hartford the next weekend.
“We’re still trying to figure out non-conference” games, Patella said. “I think it’s hard, with the different guidelines from each state. We were supposed to play a couple, but I’m not sure how that’s going. There was talk about us being part of [a bubble at] Mohegan Sun. I’m not sure, currently, what the status of that is.”
One thing that Bailey Patella said he was happy to hear was that the NCAA Division I Management Council has recommended that all athletes participating in winter sports in the 2020-21 academic year be awarded another year of eligibility. That would give Patella another year to play basketball.
“I definitely think that would be a great opportunity to take that other year,” he said. “I love being here and basketball has always been a love of mine. Being able to go for my Master’s is another great thing. This would give me an opportunity to do that and start. I definitely am considering it. I don’t know yet.
“I’m going to have a conversation with my coach to talk about it and see where to go from there.”