The COVID-19 pandemic meant a temporary transition from hardwood to asphalt for the summer months.
Members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team hit the outdoor basketball court circuit around the city of Saskatoon, looking for places to shoot and dribble while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
“It was all over the place — you name it — whether that be Briarwood Park or Lakeview Park or Rosewood Park, wherever we could basically get by to do some stuff, to get some shots up with the guys and stuff like that,” explained Huskies head coach Barry Rawlyk, adding that they were left training outdoors, in some form, with the players who were in town during the summer months.
“Obviously, we had to work in very small groups. You’d get three or four guys out, to get some shots up, so it’s interesting.”
Rawlyk has since welcomed a move back into the Physical Activity Complex; the Huskies have resumed training, going five times a week with no scheduled games in sight.
“Since September’s arrived, everybody’s returned to campus and we’re training,” said Rawlyk, whose Huskies have a roster of 15 players listed for the pending 2020-21 U Sports season.
Returnees include Addison Dewar, Emmanuel Akintunde, Chan De Ciman, Maxwell Amoafo, Kessler Bishop, Alexander Dewar, Noah Nickel, Fisayo Moibi, Cam Wright, Jean Carol Ishemezwe, Ryker Wuttke and Nik Akophjanov.
“These guys have made an investment to come back to Saskatoon so we’re trying, as much as we can, to get them a meaningful student-athlete experience,” stressed Rawlyk.
“Of course, all the instruction is off-line so we’re hoping to be able to provide them some academic support, where they can get it, by directing them to the appropriate academic help. They may not have full access to that at home. There’s also the strength and conditioning training we’re doing here and, of course, there’s the on-court training that we spend some time with and then we have the added luxury of having the necessary physiotherapy services, and stuff like that, that athletes sometimes require.”
That includes the oft-injured De Ciman, who is back training.
“We feel like he’s pretty much recovered from the shoulder surgery that he had and dislocated elbow and all that kind of stuff,” said Rawlyk. “He’s had some problems there. He’s just putting his time in now with the individual development.”
Among the newcomers are Seth Jones, Tyrese Potoma and American import Marquavian Stephens. Potoma, a native of Regina, is a NCAA Division One transfer from Cleveland State. Stephens, who hails from Flint, Michigan, has yet to arrive as he deals with the “border situation, visas and all that stuff,” noted Rawlyk. “But we are anticipating his arrival at some point in time.”
JT Robinson is the lone 2020 graduate. All eligible returnees are back, other than 6-foot-9 low post Levi Timmermans from Courtenay, B.C.
“He just was not really sure what he was studying in school and he thought it’d be best to go back into the work force and make some money, so that’s what he’s doing,” noted Rawlyk.
To make sure the season isn’t a total loss, no matter what, the Huskies will continue to put a heavy emphasis on individual development and individual skills.
“You just can never find enough time during the season or off-season, when there is a competitive season, to do that,” said Rawlyk. “So there’s a lot of focus now on those things: shooting and individual skills. So it’s not a bad thing in that way. Players are all interested in getting better, doing individual things to get better. We’re spending some good time with that.
“There are a lot of things that are going on that go on during the normal course of the season. We’re trying to make sure they’re having a meaningful student-athlete experience, but at the same time, we’ve had to alter some of our practices, obviously, with the COVID safety guidelines and so on.”
Rawlyk, for one, is happy to be re-connected with his team.
“It’s kind of a part of who I am, just being around guys and working with the team,” he said. “That’s the thing I enjoy most about coaching: I just love the interactions with the players and spending time helping them get better and helping them learn the game and I learn things from them, so the fact we’re able to do that, to some degree, I think is good for me.
“It’s good for my health and I feel like we’re being productive. Everybody wants to feel like that. They want to feel like they’re useful and productive. From that aspect, I’m grateful that the university has found a safe path forward for us to be able to get on the court and I just really enjoy what I’m doing. It’s not a full-meal deal, but it’s sure a heck of a lot better than sitting at home on the couch.”
And much better than Zoom virtual meetings …
“The fewer of those we have, the more I can enjoy life, so sure.”