College Basketball 2020-21 Season Outlook Amid COVID-19 Concerns
If a college basketball coach is losing sleep in July during a normal year, it’s because he is traveling the country to see prospects at showcase events on the AAU circuit. But when Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel closed his eyes Sunday night, there was something else keeping him up.
“It was a little bit like your first practice where there’s excitement and nervousness and all these different things,” Capel said. “That’s how I felt Sunday night”
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Monday brought college basketball coaches and players across the country together in gyms for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic wrestled the 2020 postseason away in March. Programs are now allowed eight hours per week of required activities until the first day of classes or until Sept. 15, whichever comes first.
There are an untold number of COVID-19-related barriers still to be crossed before the scheduled beginning of college basketball’s regular season in November, and many programs are won’t have all their players on campus until classes start. But after months of unrest amid the pandemic and a historic social awakening, this week’s return to the gym is bringing a sense of normalcy to college basketball coaches and players.
“They’ve been out of the gym for a long time,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “They all want to play basketball. It’s like Christmas morning.”
Pikiell planned to ease his players back into basketball activities with individual workouts and small group workouts on Monday and Tuesday before getting a bigger group together in the gym on Wednesday once all members of the program received their COVID-19 test results.
“I’m going to have my mask on, so that’ll be a lot different for me. My goal for the next couple of weeks is to keep everyone healthy and have fun with the guys.”
– Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell
“I’m going to have my mask on, so that’ll be a lot different for me,” Pikiell said. “My goal for the next couple of weeks is to keep everyone healthy and have fun with the guys.”
That may sound like a surprisingly laid back goal for a college basketball coach with an opportunity to interact with his players on the court. But among those who spoke with CBS Sports about their plans for the summer workout period, it was a common sentiment.
“We’re not in a big, urgent hurry to get everything up and running,” said Washington State coach Kyle Smith, who anticipates his returning players receiving clearance to begin working out on Wednesday.
Washington State’s roster features seven international players, including freshmen Andrej Jakimovski and Efe Abogidi. International freshmen cannot arrive on campus until 30 days before the beginning of classes due to student visa regulations. Once they arrive, they must quarantine for two weeks.
“Even if they get here on time, we’re not going to have much time to work with them before school starts,” Smith said. “Let’s just get them over here, get them situated, let them try to adjust academically and socially, then we’ll catch them up with basketball stuff. It’s been pretty traumatic for everyone.”
Smith said strength and conditioning work is his top priority for the summer period. For many programs, that will be a continuation of the voluntary work athletes put in during June and July once student-athletes began receiving clearance to return to campuses.
At Pittsburgh, Capel said the basketball activities are being kept “very simple.”
“Everything is at a slower pace right now,” he said. “You feel like you’re trying to play catch up, so to speak. So the workouts right now are not as intense as they would be in late July normally. These guys would have been here for a month now and we would have been working for a month and we would be in better shape. Strength-wise, they’d be four weeks in with our lifting and conditioning program and we’d be able to do more things right now.”
But amid all the uncertainty of 2020, the simple opportunity to get in the gym as a team is a victory. Pikiell said players were getting access to gyms to work to play pick-up games anyway.
“It’s therapeutic,” Pikiell said. “Be in the gym, smile. “I think it’ll be really good for them just to run around in a safe environment. They love basketball.”
“Just to have some sense of normalcy when everything has been completely turned upside down and there’s uncertainty, just to have something in their lives that’s a little bit normal, we’ve seen our guys be excited,” Capel said.
The coaches don’t seem to mind, either.
“It’s really good to be back in the gym, back on the floor with our team and to work with the guys for us as a staff, as older people,” Capel said. “We’ve been back in the office. But what can you do without players?”