With just two weeks to go before the start of its 2019-20 season, the Binghamton men’s basketball team received surprising news on Monday. Redshirt freshman guard Michael Besselink left the program to pursue a professional basketball career, the athletics department confirmed on Tuesday.
“Mike informed the coaching staff and the team on Monday that he decided to return home to Finland to pursue an opportunity to play professional basketball,” said Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey.
Besselink was in his second year with the program. He redshirted his freshman season while recovering from an injury suffered in preseason training. He was expected to step into a starting role on the team in 2019-20. And he became the sixth player to leave the team this year, putting the Binghamton program in an uncertain position.
Besselink did not respond to Pipe Dream’s request for comment on his departure. Prior to his decision, Albert Odero, Calvin Poulina, Tyler Stewart, Carter Stewart and Thomas Bruce all departed the Binghamton program with eligibility remaining for a variety of reasons.
Bruce, a three-year starter and two-time America East All-Defensive Team honoree, was sidelined prior to his senior season because of a concussion, ultimately redshirting the year with the intention of returning to the court in 2019-20. However, at the beginning of the fall semester of this year, Bruce was still not cleared to play, and the decision was made for him to not return to the team for the 2019-20 season. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules stipulate that an athlete’s eligibility expires five consecutive years after their first game appearance, so Bruce is currently applying for a sixth-year waiver with the goal of rejoining the Bearcats for the 2020-21 season, his final one at Binghamton.
In hopes that Bruce would be able to return this season, a scholarship was kept available for him, which will not be utilized. Combined with Besselink’s departure, two of Binghamton’s 13 scholarships will remain unused for the 2019-20 season.
In January, guard Odero left the team midway through his sophomore season in pursuit of more playing time, transferring to Division II school Arkansas Tech. Following the 2018-19 season, forward Poulina also departed after one season in Binghamton because of concerns about playing time, transferring to a junior college in Florida.
Guard Tyler Stewart transferred after Binghamton’s medical staff was unable to clear him to play because of concussion problems that plagued his sophomore season. Despite the reservations of the Binghamton medical team, St. Francis (PA) cleared him to play. Guard Carter Stewart, a walk-on, also did not return the team after his freshman season.
The six departures, along with the death of rising sophomore forward Calistus Anyichie in a drowning accident last July, have resulted in a completely overhauled Binghamton roster heading into the upcoming season. Aside from sophomore guard Sam Sessoms, the reigning AE Rookie of the Year, the Bearcats return just two players from last season’s team that reached the AE semifinals — senior guard Richard Caldwell, Jr. and sophomore guard Leo Gallagher.
When the team takes the court in its Nov. 5 opener against Cornell, several new faces will be playing significant minutes alongside Sessoms. Freshman forward George Tinsley, sophomore center Yarden Willis and senior forward Pierre Sarr, among others, are expected to step into prominent roles for the Bearcats this season.