MCCC Men’s Basketball Hosts Speaker Series to Prep for the 2020-21 Season


West Windsor, N.J. – How do you prepare to play basketball when the gym doors are locked? For much of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted daily life around the world for nearly half a year, the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) men’s basketball team was resigned to staying socially distanced. 

Players could practice solo at outdoor courts, but any hope for in-person, team hoops was off the menu. 

Eventually restrictions loosened, and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and MCCC began planning for a 2020-21 season. But with practice not scheduled to resume until later this fall, MCCC men’s basketball head coach Howard Levy took to a different method to prepare his team for the season. 

Over the last few weeks Levy has been hosting a speaker series during which people from around the country would hold court with Mercer’s men’s basketball team. 

A graduate of Princeton University, Levy’s career has afforded him a number of relationships that have taken the Vikings to new heights. Each December for much of the last decade, the men’s basketball team took a trip to Washington D.C., where Levy and his players would meet with the late Georgetown University Coach John Thompson, practice at the Washington Wizards training facility, and tour the United States Capitol.

Levy’s friendships have culminated is a tremendous slate of speakers, ranging from MCCC basketball alumnus and Northwestern University women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown to National Association of Basketball Coaches Executive Director Craig Robinson. 

[The series] came together from two things - my participation in Mercer’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force which, besides being really interesting and important, introduced me to many more people from the college that I would want to expose my guys to,” Levy said. 

“Also, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson did a webinar with Steve Kerr that got me thinking that we could have some pretty good guests from outside of the college as well.”

Unlike many of the Zoom sessions that have become commonplace during the pandemic, Levy kept the meetings private and prevented  screen recordings. He wanted the meetings to be a safe space in which players and guests could speak their minds freely without worrying if someone would see the archived version floating around the internet. 

So far, guests have included: MCCC Student Government President Laura Elisabeth Ceras; National Association of Basketball Coaches Executive Director Craig Robinson; Los Angeles Clippers Assistant Coach Armond Hill; MCCC Fitness Professor John Kalinowski; MCCC Trainer Keir Livingston; Princeton Alumnus and Chicago Public Schools Project Manager Isaac Carter; Princeton Alumnus and Surgeon Kenny Cline; MCCC Library Services Director Pam Price; and MCCC Tutoring Services Coordinator John Kashmer.

During one of the meetings, MCCC assistant coach Stan Tuchez and Athletics Director John Simone  walked the team through the All-In Campus Democracy Challenge, which seeks to empower voters on college campuses around the country. 

Levy said that the team has responded well to both the speaker series, and the realities of living virtually since March. 

“Interestingly, it has been a positive experience as we have been able to build our team by bringing them together virtually in the summer in a way that we would never have been able to do otherwise,” Levy said.

“In addition to them starting to develop relationships, I think they have a better idea of what is expected of them and of the helpful services available to them at Mercer.”

These relationships should bleed over into the season, as the Vikings prepare to compete in NJCAA Region 19.

“So far I have been pleased with the attitude of this group. Because of the unique circumstances, we haven’t seen too many of them actually play, but based on their reputations and their behavior thus far, I am optimistic.”

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men's basketball speaker series

The speaker series jumpstarted the MCCC men's basketball team's week, and drew esteemed guests from around the country.