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Hoopcats return for extra season

Shungu, Patella back as “super seniors” for UVM men’s basketball
Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 12:17 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In less than a month, the UVM men’s basketball team will take the floor for their first exhibition game against St. Mike’s. The Cats will feature two guys on their roster that shouldn’t still be here...but fitfth year forward Bailey Patella and sixth year guard Benny Shungu plan to take full advantage of the extra opportunity. Here’s Part 1 of our conversation with Vermont’s Super Seniors.

“I think my driving factor was COVID was a weird year, and I feel like we didn’t get to the potential that we had,” Shungu said when asked why he chose to return for another season. “I felt like we had unfinished business losing to Hartford in the semifinals. And with the guys that were coming back, I felt like we were coming into this year strong and have a great opportunity to go all the way through.”

Bailey, you were really emotional last year after that semifinal game against Hartford. What was kind of running through your mind? Did you know that you were planning to come back, or was that just kind of the culmination, you thought that might be the end of your college career?

“I think the raw emotion that I showed was just the disappointment that we had lost the game,” Patella said. “I didn’t think that I had played great that game. I had a sense that I was coming back, but I didn’t know for sure so that could have been my last college basketball game. But I definitely didn’t want to go out like that.”

You guys had a lot of turnover in the offseason. Every year there’s a lot of turnover, but this year in particular, you guys lost a guy you played with for four years (guard Stef Smith, who transferred to St. John’s), lost a couple members of your coaching and support staff (Associate Head Coach Kyle Cieplicki, Hamlet Tibbs, Greg Snyder, Ari Shaprio-Miller). What’s it kind of been like for you trying to find the chemistry of this new group here?

“Yeah it’s been a roller coaster because all those guys you just named, they were key pieces of our program,” Shungu said. “It’s bittersweet because you want them to pursue that type of opportunity that they have and have gotten. But then again it’s tough to lose a relationship like that.”

“I mean we have a lot of newcomers, a couple transfers, a couple freshmen,” Patella said. “And then with the new staff members, and (Ryan Schneider) has stepped up big time in his role. And it’s all just moving pieces. We do have a lot of returners, but we’re looking at it as a whole new group, whole new season, whole new system, so we gotta work this month to build this thing up.”

In terms of the leadership aspect, you guys stepped up into those roles last year and I think everyone knew coming in that you would have this extra year of eligibility if you chose to take it. But is it kind weird being back? You guys were the senior leaders last year and you’re kind of back in that position now.

“You would think that after having one full year of leadership, that you’d feel comfortable with it,” Patella said. “But it’s still an ongoing process for me and I just try to come in every day with a mindset of like teaching the new guys the system, keeping them up to speed.”

“I think my thing with leadership, last year was different, this year we’ve added new pieces and so my job is to be the best version that I can everyday,” Shungu said. “Whether it’s practice, whether it’s team events outside of on the court and whatnot, just to try to be an example to the younger guys but also to my peers as well. Because this is technically our last ride and so we want to enjoy the process and enjoy every moment that we can.”

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