Broc Finstuen doesn’t hedge.
This has been a weird time, especially those first few games. So quiet.
“I want to come back next year and feel that college game-day experience again,” said Finstuen, a 2017 Pine Island graduate who is a senior guard on the University of the Pacific basketball team.
Finstuen has been playing basketball in the midst of a pandemic. To say it’s been different is akin to saying he’s far from home.
The experience has been a million miles different from what he’d been through his first year at Pacific (Stockton, Calif.), or even his junior college seasons at Casper and Central Wyoming.
There are no fans in the stands as college basketball is doing what it can to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has been the strangest thing of all for Finstuen and certainly all college players this season.
“This year has been super weird,” Finstuen said. “Every game, you have to bring your own energy with no fans. On the court, you have to whisper, so the other team doesn’t hear you. It’s hard. You definitely have to have a strong head to go out there and perform every night.”
STAYING MENTALLY TOUGH
If four games are any indication, Finstuen doesn’t just have a strong head, he has an indestructible one.
He’s playing the best basketball of his life, at least when Pacific has been allowed to play. Twelve of its first 16 games have been either cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, mostly on their own team.
The 3-1 Tigers haven’t played a game since Dec. 20. That's when, led by Finstuen’s 16 points and eight rebounds, they dismantled Westmont 92-64.
Finstuen was 6-for-10 shooting, including nailing three of the four 3-pointers he tried.
That performance was no outlier for the 6-feet-5, 200-pound guard, who’s gone from an occasional starter last year for the Division I Tigers, to a full-time starter this season. Finstuen is averaging 13 points per game this season, while shooting 50 percent overall, and a rare 55 percent (6-for-11) on 3-pointers.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself,” Finstuen said. “I’m just way more confident this year. I think I can continue to shoot the way I’ve been shooting.”
Still, it’s not been his ability to put the ball in the basket that’s pleased Finstuen most this season. It’s the rest of his game, the grinding stuff, that he’s most proud of. The eight rebounds he grabbed against Westmont was also no outlier. He’s averaging exactly eight boards per game.
“I’ve been really rebounding the ball well lately, that and playing defense,” said Finstuen, who’s aided by unusual strength and an excellent 34-inch vertical jump. “I think my court awareness of where the ball is going to be is what has really helped me. A lot of players look at the rim (when the ball is shot) and don’t box out and get after it. But right when the ball goes up, my first instinct is to go get that ball.”
FINDING A WAY
When the pandemic shut things shut down all around the country this past spring, Finstuen had another first instinct. It was to go find a basketball court, even with gyms all being locked up. He yearned to keep improving his game.
He found a way, all right, taking things outside. Finstuen was like so many players across the country, relegated to playing on the blacktop for so much of their offseason.
Again, if four games are any indication, the time spent outdoors was well spent. Finstuen is playing the best basketball of his life.
His inclination now is that this won’t be the final season he wears a Tigers jersey. The NCAA is allowing all seniors another season after this one, due to all of the irregularities of playing through a pandemic.
Finstuen likes pretty much everything about playing at Pacific, where his coach is one-time NBA great point guard Damon Stoudamire and he’s surrounded by teammates he’s grown close to.
That includes three roommates — Jeremiah Bailey, Jordan Bell and Nigel Shadd —who like to wrap up their nights with intense card games of UNO.
“It’s a good group,” Finstuen said. “I love those guys.”
So, this is likely not Finstuen’s last experience at Pacific. He’s already looking forward to next season, the expected normalcy of it and the thrill and satisfaction it will provide.
Because as well as he’s played this year, he desires more.
“College should be the best time of your life,” Finstuen said. “Because other than being with my teammates, we just have no interaction with other humans. But right now, my mindset it to stay mentally strong and see the bigger picture.”