Basketball stretching photo

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council approved the commencement of official basketball team operations for Oct. 14.

With the West Coast Conference (WCC) delaying its fall season, Gonzaga athletes will not be able to face their opponents just yet. But they will have more time to get in shape for the season and get back in the gym, something they were not able to do this summer with local gyms, fields and courts closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Without access to workout equipment in gyms, athletes were limited to what they had—mostly their own body weight—to maintain their strength and fitness. 

“We were able to send them some bands, jump ropes, things like that where they could use a minimal amount of equipment," said Travis Knight, strength and conditioning coach for GU men’s basketball.  "But most people didn’t have access to a gym or a basketball court unless it was an outside court, so it was very limited.” 

The athletes’ voluntary workout programs consisted of lunges, pullups, pushups, balance, mobility and flexibility exercises, as well as conditioning and running. But modeling the energetic and encouraging practice environment was difficult without the presence of teammates.  

“They just missed their teammates," said Mike Nilson, strength and condition coach for women's basketball. "Basketball is such a team sport and so much of it is relationship based. It’s really hard to replicate that by yourself, especially when you’re not really sure what you’re training for, when the next thing you have to do is. What they were really missing was just a community that comes with being on a team.” 

While the workouts were voluntary, athletes were able to ask their trainers questions or share their comments, similar to when the drills were especially grueling during practice. 

Even as athletes return to campus with the start of the new school year, the NCAA, WCC, GU and Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) pandemic guidelines still restrict athletic teams from hosting normal practices. Athletes are limited to practicing in groups of five, social distancing while in the same vicinity as one another, having their temperatures taken and filling out health surveys to ensure that they are not exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. After all workouts, meticulous cleaning takes place to reduce any chances of transmission.  

“It wasn’t anything like what we would normally have in practice, but at least the new guys got to learn how some of our workouts look and just learn how some of the offense works,” Knight said. 

In addition to adhering to the SRHD pandemic guidelines in place, athletes and trainers had to follow NCAA and Next College Student Athlete guidelines when restarting training after having prolonged time off.  

“Now that our ladies have been training for long enough, they're ready to go," Nilson said. "I'm assuming that we're going to start practice in October and we'll take it day by day. That's how I'm training them until I hear otherwise.”   

Delays and uncertainties with all of the athletic seasons have kept the trainers on their toes, with guess work on the malleable dates’ athletes need to be game ready. Athletes aren't able to play their sports yet, so it has given them more time to build their strength and get in game shape, benefiting the players who still need extra time to develop. While these physical characteristics can be improved on, the lack of game scenarios or drills resembling game time events hinders athletes’ abilities to work on positioning and put the strategic facets of their games into play.   

“Until we can play basketball and guard each other, and do all the things that you have to do in basketball, we just work on the other skills that we are cleared to do,” Knight said.  

“Our players have done a really good job of being responsible and being motivated. They’ve done a good job of handling the ups and downs of the emotions of all of this," Knight said. "I think they’re ready to have a great year.”

Noah Wong is a staff writer.

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