YSU basketball teams trying to remain upbeat
YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun has a laptop computer in front of him, studying the intricacies of potential recruits from carefully crafted highlight clippings.
The NCAA has mandated no live contact with potential YSU players until April.
The YSU men’s basketball coach has his smartphone and YouTube segments to rely upon for recruiting purposes.
Calhoun keeps himself abreast of other Horizon League teams and possible non-conference opponents before Horizon League play begins Dec. 19-20 at Northern Kentucky.
He said, as of Monday at 10:30 a.m., the Penguins don’t have a non-conference game scheduled. That may change, but situations are fluid in this COVID-19 pandemic when positive cases have spiked to high levels in November.
The YSU men’s basketball team paused team activities on Nov. 16 because of a positive COVID-19 result. Players, managers and coaches cannot gather and must self-isolate at this time. Student-athletes had the option to quarantine at home or on campus.
According to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, YSU is among a handful of teams in the Horizon League under quarantine. Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Milwaukee, Robert Morris and Wright State have paused their team activities.
Calhoun is looking at his team’s footage, waiting for the day they return to practice. This is the second shutdown of team activities this preseason.
YSU has not played a game, or even scrimmaged another team, since March 5 at Loyola-Chicago’s Gentile Center, where the Penguins lost to UIC in a Horizon League quarterfinal contest.
YSU has seven newcomers on its roster, added to the wealth of upperclassmen experience returning for the tumultuous 2020-21 season.
“One of the coaching adjustments this year is to keep things simple,” Calhoun said. “You don’t want to complicate things because of your amount of practice time. We’ve missed about 21 days from our practice that we would normally get in.
“You want to keep things simple, as simple as you can.”
YSU women’s basketball coach John Barnes said position coaches keep in contact with their players on a daily basis. Barnes said they check on the student-athlete’s well-being and re-emphasizing the team’s focus heading into the 2020-21 campaign.
The women, like the men’s team, paused activities due to exposure of a positive COVID-19 case on Nov. 19.
No non-conference games for the women’s team. The season begins Dec. 12-13 at Northern Kentucky as the Penguins enter the fluid campaign in league play.
Barnes said he is vigilant, watching other Horizon League teams as they play non-conference games. YSU has an advantage of seeing these competitors against multiple opponents without the Penguins giving other Horizon League teams the same option.
“I’m trying to stay focused on what I can control, which is getting myself and the staff as ready as we can for our next two games, which is supposed to be Northern Kentucky,” Barnes said. “There’s plenty keeping us busy. We’re trying to do the best we can.”
ROAD BACK TO ACTION
YSU’s Executive Director of Athletics Ron Strollo said the path for the YSU men’s and women’s team to return to team activities has many layers to unfold prior to resuming their respective regimen.
“Each kid is different, depending on whether they are close contact, or whether they’ve tested positive,” Strollo said. “The quarantine kids need to spend two weeks in quarantine since the last contact. NCAA requirements are 7- to 10-day acclimation, that means slowly getting back into the rhythm. Sometimes it could be seven. Sometimes it could be 10 depending how long you have been out, or if you had symptoms.”
Requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19 are quite stringent. The Youngstown City Health District requires isolation. The NCAA states 14 days of no activity whatsoever.
“After that, you have to do a heart checkup, which includes blood work, an EKG (checking for a variety of heart conditions), and an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart that provides moving pictures and provides information on the structure and function of the heart, according to myheart.net). All of that needs to be scheduled. All of that is separate, but they need to be scheduled with hospitals or physicians. The results need to be evaluated.”
Negative results equate to more recovery time for the person who tested positive for COVID-19.
“That’s another situation that could leave kids out months,” Strollo said.
After clearance is given through testing, the NCAA requires that 7- to 10-day acclimation period.
Student-athletes having those battery of tests, especially with a short holiday week with Thanksgiving, proves taxing for all involved. Hospitals are filling with COVID-19 patients, who are the facility’s top priority.
“The echos and heart examinations need to happen at hospitals. Our kids very well might not take priority over someone whose life is in danger,” Strollo said. “It’s confusing. It’s a challenge. This is why, quite frankly, they gave every kid another year. Every school in the nation is having the same issue, same requirements. That’s why they gave them another year of eligibility. Most schools are going to be facing this, if they haven’t already.”
If a YSU player tests positive for COVID-19 during the season, what is the protocol? If an opposing player contracts the virus and is in contact with YSU players during a Horizon League game, how does that impact the Penguins’ basketball teams?
How long does the basketball team affected need to quarantine, and who needs to stay away from team-related activities?
“We don’t make those decisions,” Strollo said. “The local health department does. They’ll come in and determine how long that individual was around our kids.
“The thing you have to remember is the kids that have tested positive, we don’t need to test anymore. They’re no longer subject to a quarantine. These kids that have tested positive. We don’t need to test them, nor do they need to be quarantined if they’re around a positive between 90 and 150 days. Any kids that are testing positive now are likely good for the rest of the season.
“The local health department would interview all the kids and view any video of practice or the games and determine if there was a close contact or not.”
Strollo said the YSU Athletic Department is following NCAA, CDC and state protocols.
“Athletics isn’t making any decisions for these kids’ safety,” Strollo said. “It’s all being made by policies and procedures set by those organizations. No athletic department is working on their own through this.
“We’re often in contact with the Youngstown Health Department. Ethan Solger, YSU’s Head Athletic Trainer, is the one that’s really engaged day to day in these things.”
Strollo added he is confident of YSU’s COVID-19 response when dealing with the safety of student-athletes. Strollo said Solger and Dr. Jim Shina and his staff have been instrumental in the university response to the COVID-19 setbacks.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” Strollo said. “It is. At the end of the day, we need to do what’s best for our student athletes. If it is to make sure all these tests get in and have been done right, that’s what we’re going to do.”
KEEPING A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Calhoun said his team adapted during practices. Some players, including freshmen, were adapting and learning the YSU system.
Adjusting during these uncertain times bodes well for NCAA basketball teams accustomed to a consistent regimen.
“Their attitude has been unbelievable,” Calhoun said. “That’s a great sign because there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns and bumps in the road this season because we don’t know. Our attitude has been tremendous throughout this whole ordeal, going back to March when our season got cut short to now. Our kids have done a masterful job of staying upbeat, having a vision of where we’re trying to go as a program. I couldn’t be more happy than that.”
The YSU women, in a normal season, which this is certainly not, has 10 to 11 non-league contests.
Things will happen this season. Stoppages of programs are inevitable. The COVID-19 pandemic has strong-armed NCAA programs.
NCAA winter athletes are all redshirted this season because of the volatility of the virus. All players, including seniors, can return without forfeiting a season in the 2021-22 campaign.
“We’re going to think of it as every game we get to play is a bonus of experience and things we can use toward the next season,” Barnes said. “Hopefully that’s a normal season.”