It’s been over 4 months since the Liberty Flames men’s basketball team was last on the court, celebrating the 2020 ASUN Tournament Championship in the final game played in the Vines Center.
Shortly thereafter, the entire world was shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping the Flames from competing in the 2020 NCAA Tournament and bringing an abrupt end to the careers of Myo Baxter-Bell, Scottie James, Caleb Homesley, and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz.
This week, beginning Monday, Liberty head men’s basketball coach Ritchie McKay and his team were able to assemble on the practice court.
“It’s great to have a chance to be on the court with them again,” McKay said in a virtual press conference with the media on Wednesday afternoon. “There’s a dynamic in a shared experience, and although Zoom’s are great or enhanced voluntary meetings are fine, there’s nothing like having a chance to do something you love with young men or people who love doing it.”
While we’re still unsure when college athletics will resume, including basketball, the Flames are practicing in anticipation of a full season beginning later this year.
“There’s so much speculation out there,” McKay said about the prospects of the 2020-21 season. “It depends on who you talk to, everyone has a variance of opinions about will we start on time, will we start January 1? There are some coaches who have really gotten behind starting after Thanksgiving and trying to get as many games in there. All that speculation is way out of my control. I just want to enjoy today and worry about getting better when we have guys together and when the season starts or when we’re afforded the opportunity to really tip it up.”
McKay and his staff welcomed his team back to campus in June for voluntary workouts, and the NCAA began allowing men’s basketball teams to practice this week. McKay said his team went through a quarantine period earlier this summer and “at this time there’s no one that has tested positive.”
“The biggest adjustment is the self containment, manufactured “bubble” that we’ve asked them to live in,” said McKay. “We don’t do much outside of ourselves. I think, for young people, they want to hang out or whatever, but I do think our guys are really committed to having an appreciation for being able to do this.”
Following a couple weeks of practice, the team will take a short break as players will be able to return home the first week of August to get some time off before school is scheduled to begin Aug. 24. When the team reassembles, they will have to quarantine again, McKay says.
“We’re certainly very protective and appreciative of the time we’re getting together,” said McKay. “I think it’s something that we definitely don’t take for granted – the ability to have in person access. I think that promotes some health and wellness, both mentally and physically. These are young people and as resilient as they are, they want to pursue their trade. My personal opinion is it was nice to get them back because i think they’re safer in our own “bubble” and how limited contact they have outside our basketball family. There’s a little bit of security in the fact that we feel good about where we are, yet the biggest factor is you get to do life together.”
McKay says he has learned a lot through the past few months, most importantly to have a greater appreciation for family. One of his mentors recently asked him what will change you forever having gone through this?
“Just to have a chance to slow down and really pause and connect with the people you love the most,” said McKay. “Sometimes we get it twisted. We get in such a rat race to do, or to achieve, or to accomplish, that we forget what’s really important, and what’s really important is relationships. For me, it’s just trying to slow down and value those, and make sure I’m honoring the ones I’ve been granted; to steward or shepherd the relationships God has given me to really invest in. I’m trying to do that on a daily basis.”