HARRISONBURG, Va. (WFXR) — College basketball season starts Wednesday… and in Harrisonburg — a new era will get underway as Salem native Mark Byington guides the James Madison University men’s basketball team. Byington spent 6 seasons as Georgia Southern’s head coach before going to JMU. “We can’t wait. We’re getting back to the normalcy of playing basketball. So that’s going to be fun,” said Byington.
Mark Byington is trying to establish a “new normal” at James Madison. Even though his transition to taking over the men’s basketball program has been anything but normal. “Everything doesn’t seem real. You’re taking a job in a pandemic and I don’t meet my team til July and then they show up and we’ve gone through quarantines and we’ve gone through multiple COVID tests, and next thing you know you show up in this beautiful building, so there’s a lot of things that have been strange in 2020. I’m not the first to say that,” said Byington.
He’ll be the first to coach at the Atlantic Union Bank Center, a new home for a head coach that’s familiar with the commonwealth. A state champion at Salem, Byington began his coaching career at Hargrave Military Academy before making stops at UVA and Virginia Tech. “My mom and dad are an hour and a half away. They’ll be able to make a lot of games and I have a lot of friends and family that are still in the Virginia area. I spent time in Charlottesville and Blacksburg and different parts of Virginia. Virginia feels like home,” said Byington.
James Madison hasn’t had a winning record in four seasons and is picked to finish ninth in the in the ten-team Colonial Athletic Association. “It doesn’t mean anything. We need to go out and play and there’s going to be a lot of games this year that we’re going to go out and produce. That just shows we’re the ninth best team in the league and we gotta prove em wrong,” said Byington.
COVID-19 already having an impact on the Dukes schedule. They were supposed to play Lancaster Bible College but the Chargers canceled their November and December games. J.M.U. will instead host Limestone College in the opener Wednesday afternoon. Back in 1994, as a player for the Salem Spartans, Byington led the team to the Group AA state championship. His #32 jersey has since been retired by Salem High School