The coronavirus pandemic shut down the NBA season March 11, and pretty much all basketball followed suit shortly thereafter.
But the NBA is finally set to return July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, inside Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Players, coaches and team personnel will have to adjust to life inside a bubble for three months. They are set to begin reporting to that site today.
Meanwhile, some area high school players have already made a return to the hardwood. Summer traveling teams are back in action, but it is hardly business as usual, especially off the court.
The health and safety of players is paramount and has resulted in strict guidelines being enforced at tournaments in a number of Midwestern states.
Janesville Parker boys basketball coach Matt Bredesen is also coach of a 17U AAU team that will make its tournament debut this weekend in Dubuque, Iowa. A total of 65 teams are slated to compete in 16U and 17U divisions.
Bredesen said getting back to playing has been a long time coming.
“You don’t get better if you don’t play competitively, and these kids haven’t been able to do that since March,” Bredesen said. “We had a couple of scrimmages in Appleton, because they don’t have any COVID restrictions right now, and it was good to get out there and play and see the kids get after it.
“But we also know that things can change in a second. I think it’s the right thing to do by resuming our AAU schedule, but no one is going to sacrifice anyone’s health to play a game of basketball.”
AAU players have always been required to sign a liability form to participate, but now because of COVID-19, players must sign a second form that outlines rules and regulations regarding the virus and the fact that no one can be held liable if a player is infected.
Bredesen said several of his players from the Milwaukee area have already been tested for COVID-19 and that they tested negative. Bredesen said the decision to play is up to each individual, and he says that anyone who is not feeling well will not be allowed to travel to any tournament with the team.
Depending on the state, each tournament will likely have a different set of COVID rules enforced. At this weekend’s tournament in Dubuque, each player will have his temperature taken upon entering the gymnasium, and coaches will be required to wear a mask during games. Players on the bench are not required to wear a mask but can if they choose to.
Each player on Bredesen’s 17U team is allowed to bring one or two guests, with one of them preferably being a parent or guardian. All guests attending the Dubuque tournament need to register before Friday and will also have their temperature taken at the door. Masks are optional for all fans attending.
“Not only will it be great to be back on the court, but the fact that we’re playing in Dubuque is also a good thing because they’re not a (COVID) hot spot right now,” Bredesen said.
“It all comes down to the players and their comfort level. If they get over and something just doesn’t feel right or they are having second thoughts, we’ll just tell them to go home, and that would certainly be something that we wouldn’t hold against them. None of them have ever been through anything like this before.”
Bredesen said strong safety measures will be in place the entire tournament. Teams will be asked to leave immediately after each of their games so that the gym can be thoroughly disinfected before the next game. Each player will have his own water bottle, and fans will be asked to social distance from each other.
“I think the best thing we can hope for is that they come up with a vaccine by spring if not sooner,” Bredesen said. “I really do think we’re doing the right thing by getting back to playing, and we’re doing it by taking very few risks and letting everybody know up front what is expected from players and fans.
“We certainly don’t want anyone to get the virus, but if they do, with the precautions we’ll have in place and the fact that they’re all in pretty good shape, we hope they’d quickly recover.”
Basketball is back. Let’s just hope it’s not quickly deflated.