The Highlanders still face a postseason ban this year since low APR scores forbade them from participating in the Big West Tournament at the end of the season.

It’s a shame, really, especially considering all the potential this team has. It’s a squad that features new coaches, a different playing style and fresh, talented young players. It’s a team with length, outside shooting and a strong leader in Robert Smith. To put it in simple terms, it’s a promising young squad.

But therein lies the problem. This year’s basketball team is filled with so much promise, but with the postseason ban, we will never really get to see how far they can get—at least not this year.

It’s a tough dilemma and it brings up important questions: How can the Highlanders move forward without a clear destination? And what is this team playing for now that the incentive to win a championship has been stripped away?

I asked Head Coach Jim Wooldridge that same question a week ago and he gave an earnest response.

“We’re playing for a lot,” he assured me. “We’re playing to try to win the league… We play in the Alaska Shootout. We’re going to try to win that tournament. Essentially, if we cannot play in postseason, we’re essentially doing this: we’re going to play, instead of a 30-game schedule, we’re going to play a 60-game schedule… We’re playing 30 this year to prepare for the 30 next year.”

So that’s the team’s goal; they’re playing for the future.

It’s a wise plan. Past teams have played for the exact opposite. The goals of those teams were limited only to the end of the season. This time it’s different. The team’s goals surpass the end of this year and look ahead and prepare for the distant and unknown future.

It’s a plan that former UC Riverside basketball teams have avoided. Previously, those teams relied heavily on transfer students and walk-ons more than they did on incoming freshmen. The plan this year is to be prepared for the next. And honestly, it’s not a bad idea.

As crazy as it sounds, that postseason ban might have turned out to be a blessing in disguise.