Basketball is a game wherein it isn’t feasible to socially distance, and since last March, when the NCAA canceled its tournament, the world of collegiate hoops has never been the same.
Sports Illustrated writer Michael Rosenberg covered the unique logistical challenges the Hawai‘i men’s and women’s basketball programs experience as the teams prepare to travel to Cal Poly to play their first conference games of the season.
The title for the Sports Illustrated cover is apropos, “What Are We Doing?” and the elongated subhead ends with the question “Is it worth the risk?”
It wasn’t even a month ago when the Hawai‘i Rainbow Warriors’ football team hosted San Jose State for a football game.
It’s quite amazing how the pandemic shifted the priorities and altered the perspective of everyone in Hawai‘i.
Once, playing football and basketball was considered a priority. But is has been replaced with safety first.
In the pre-COVID world, this priority would be considered absurd, but after the pandemic has ravaged the lives of so many, it’s safe to say yesterday is history and tomorrow’s a mystery.
In this day and age, when you have major-conference teams contemplating the cancellation of conference schedules, it seems this college-basketball season appears it will be abrupt and quite strange.
With the distribution of vaccines still being worked out, they may not be the magic bullets.
The road to normalcy may never come, and the revenue loss may take years to recover from, if ever.
COVID-19 restrictions in Hawai‘i will continue to remain a moving target, and with the mainland health-care system getting completely gutted from this tragedy, things still won’t be completely fluid as the calendar flips to 2021.
The obvious logistical nightmare aside, this has also put a strain on recruiting for Rainbow Warriors’ head men’s basketball coach Eran Ganot.
According to the SI article, all Ganot’s recruits were sight-unseen.
“He met five of his players for the first time,” the article states. “Ganot has coached Hawai‘i’s men’s team since 2015, but he has seven newcomers on the squad, and five of them were what he calls ‘Zoom recruits.’ They had never been to campus because recruiting had been shut down since March. They took tours after they enrolled.”
Unlike any other year, conditioning is also an issue starting with this season, and during the first half of two games against NCAA Division II level competition, the lack of conditioning it showed for Hawai‘i.
The Rainbow Warriors’ players showed the team’s rust in the first two halves against inferior opponents.
Hawai‘i led Hawai‘i Pacific by only five and the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo by 10 in the opening games at the half. Headed into the conference opener with Cal Poly, that is obviously a concern for the team, not to mention all of the travel restrictions, rules and regulations they will face traveling back and forth from the mainland.
It’s amazing this feat is even going to be attempted, but two days after Christmas it appears that is what is on the agenda.
Freshman guard Biwali Bayles is just happy to play.
Bayles cracked the starting lineup as a freshman, and expressed his appreciation to play.
“It’s been difficult, and that is something that I am not sure all players are used to,” Bayles said. “This pandemic has gone on for so long, and it’s pretty tough, but we will get through it.”
Ganot is a proven leader, and he demonstrates his maturity and leadership through every pre- and post-game Zoom press conference.
“I think they find each other through perspective,” Ganot said. “We are very fortunate. I know these are really tough times, but we have a good group of guys. We represent a great program, university and state.”
You can tell Ganot is appreciative to just have his team go out and play basketball and to have his staff coach basketball, something we all took for granted in 2019.
“We were afforded the opportunity to play a game we love,” Ganot said. “I know there are restrictions, and that’s where everyone had to shift gears. Not everyone has what we have. It’s not about what we can’t control, it’s about what we can.”
Ganot continued to expound on his team’s good fortune.
“We have so much going for ourselves, and I may get down on parts of the last couple of games, but our staff doesn’t waiver from what our team’s potential is,” Ganot said. “We continue to motivate our team to reach their potential. The motivation comes together during these tough times. My job is to lead, and it is important to be good in that area.”
Whether or not the collegiate basketball season finishes or gets canceled for a second consecutive year, it’s refreshing to see Ganot and his team take such a positive attitude towards dealing with adversity.
Isn’t it all about perspective, as that perspective we all have continues to evolve? It’s just sad it had to do so through severe tragedy and adversity.
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or email@example.com.