There is no 2019-20 season in the Ontario University Athletics conference, but basketballs are still bouncing in earnest at the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse, home of the Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s and women’s teams.
Men’s head coach Ryan Thomson has nine of his players in Thunder Bay and practicing, and women’s bench boss Jon Kreiner has nine of 12 players learning the finer points of the game under his tutelage.
Hurry up and wait as it goes.
“It’s a bit disappointing for athletes here,” Thomson said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “With that said I think everyone understands why we’re at the point we’re at. It really is for their own safety, for the community and the university as well. It doesn’t really change the fact that guys are pretty disappointed.
“The positive of it is that it’s a good opportunity for our guys to be in the gym, just continue to improve through our player development program,” he added.
The players were really down after the season was scrapped, but high spirits returned after just a weekend, Thomson noted.
Players have been seen in and out of the LU Hangar and athletics area, hitting the weights before the courts on most evenings.
“Now that we have that decision made (to cancel the season) we can move on with regards to understanding what we have in front of us,” said Kreiner. “We will be training the student athletes who are here under our regulations and restrictions, support them 100 per cent. We’re going to do the best we can to find competitive opportunities. We will try to run something with Algoma for instance and have some sort of competition.”
February, March or perhaps not at all would be the timetable for such a venture. Fans?
“Maybe we could have a few fans watching, too. All that is just wait and see. Nothing is guaranteed,” said Kreiner.
Thomson and Kreiner are both looking for the plus side of a tough situation.
“The big one really for us is the player development key of being able have our guys on court. . . . For me that’s a positive. In terms of film work and professional development and stuff like that,” said Thomson.
Added Kreiner: “Two years ago we had our best season ever. Now we’re in our building years.
“To me it’s not a huge deal as if we were a team that’s supposed to win it this year. Are we putting in some new things? For sure we are. We’re also into kind of a reset. Evaluating our players, evaluating our
systems. Taking a long look at video from the past. . . . For us I think it’s a little more positive in how we’re using it.”
No games, no grind, and yet Thomson is looking to maintain normalcy in COVID-19 era.
“I’m trying to keep it pretty similar,” Thomson with a laugh. “I still like to be at the facility in the morning. We’re on court, or the guys are lifting, doing something structured. For me, it’s watching film, not watching film to prepare for an opponent, just watching film for an idea or try to learn something about what a team’s doing either offensively or defensively.
“It’s great for the guys who are here just to be getting a lot of reps and a lot of opportunity to play,” he added. “This is the perfect time.
If you make mistakes nobody cares. This is a great time to be making mistakes on the court. It’s a nice time to be in the gym, work on your game and to focus on your own game more so than worrying about what you have in a situation against an upcoming opponent.”
Both Thomson and Kreiner are looking forward to the summer of 2021 when the 2021-22 season should hopefully be ready to go.
“I don’t know that I’ll have a new appreciation for it. I’m pretty appreciative to begin with,” Thomson said of his head coaching job. “I think it’ll nice to get back to a regular routine of getting ready to
play somebody, travel, got to the gym. For now we’re just enjoying honing in on different parts of a guy’s game. . . . We have other guys who want to get up to campus just to start working with everyone.”
Kreiner admitted it’s nice to have some sense of routine and normalcy —even if there are no games.
“Just from a mental health standpoint in terms of getting back to what we as coaches love to do,” he said. “Not just physically will it be great, but mentally as well. . . Just getting back in the gym with your athletes, not only for the athletes, but for the coaches, is a positive. When we get back to normal, whatever that normal will be, we’ll really look back on it and really appreciate our jobs.
“We don’t want to get back to normal, we want to learn from all of this and have it better. If we do it with the right attitude and the right mindset that’s what will have.”