The West Gym’s hoops are raised, and the only basketballs in sight lie dormant on the sideline.
The only audible noises are desperate gasps for air and sneakers screeching as they pivot on hardwood. And then, of course, the beeps.
Members of the Binghamton women’s basketball team are running from the baseline to halfcourt and halfcourt to the baseline, racing the beeps blipping on Linda Cimino’s iPhone. Back-and-forth they go as they try to beat the beeps, pinging in decreasing increments.
One loss results in a warning. A second results in elimination.
The Bearcats, accustomed to losing games on the court after a 5-25 record last season, are determined to write a different script on this dreary afternoon.
Cimino, introduced as head coach on April 11 after the University elected not to renew Nicole Scholl’s contract, has a theory that could help explain the team’s 2013-14 futility.
“They need to improve their conditioning and stamina,” Cimino said as her players, unaware of the conditioning test that awaited them, stretched in unison. “We can control that.”
The beep test includes 21 stages, each of which lasts about 62 seconds. According to Cimino, a player eliminated in between stages four and seven is deemed fairly conditioned. Eight to 10 is average. Thirteen and above is excellent.
No Bearcat reached the 13th level. One even failed to complete stage seven.
It’s late April, nearly two months since Albany ended Binghamton’s five-win season in the America East quarterfinals. Cimino, who spent the past eight years coaching Division II Caldwell College, does not think time away from the court serves as an alibi. The preseason, though five months away, will arrive soon.
“There’s no excuse for a Division I basketball player to not be able to do this,” Cimino shouts as the Bearcats pant their way through stage six.
Cimino’s not as uncompromising of a drill sergeant as Denzel Washington’s Herman Boone in “Remember the Titans” — “We’re going to do up-downs until Blue is no longer tired and thirsty” — but she exudes a tone that is equal parts commanding, tough and motivational.
Cimino has afforded each of her inherited players a chance to start fresh. Prove you belong on the court, and you will earn playing time.
“I don’t care how many points per game you scored. I don’t care if you’re one of my best shooters, my best defenders,” Cimino exclaims as more and more eliminated Bearcats dot the sideline. “I won’t have you like this [hunched over, hands on knees], showing everyone in the gym you’re tired. It’s a fresh start for everyone.”
Shortly thereafter, one of last year’s starters prematurely heads to the sideline. Fatigue, not a beep, has defeated her.
“Why are you giving up?” Cimino asks. “When I need someone to score a game-winning basket with five seconds left, are you going to walk off the floor?”
Finally, the test concludes. It’s the first of a host of off-season conditioning workouts.
The Bearcats will stay at Binghamton for the first summer session, during which the NCAA grants coaches eight hours per week to work with their teams. Cimino plans on allotting just two of those hours to basketball development. Anyone can guess how the Bearcats will spend the other six hours.
After the first summer session, Cimino expects her players to follow a strict conditioning regimen at home to prepare them for the 2014-15 season.
Sophomore forward Morgan Murphy said she and her teammates have kept an open mind to Cimino’s approach.
“You have to be ready to listen, ready to observe, ready to learn,” Murphy said. “I think that we’re all doing that right now. We’re just taking in everything she has to say, and we’re already learning a lot from her.”
The Bearcats still have plenty of areas in which they can improve, particularly their devotion to conditioning. Nothing drains Cimino of energy, but as she exits the West Gym with more than five months until the season opener, she wears a visage of angst. As many a good coach would, she imparts one last sentiment that is both positive and demanding.
“It’s very frustrating. It can only get better.”