Men's Basketball

Men’s Basketball Team Returns to Campus for Practice

Courtesy of Loyola AthleticsMembers of the Loyola men's basketball team gather in their pod to listen to head coach Porter Moser at the first practice of the summer.

Loyola men’s basketball coach Porter Moser said he knew summer workouts wouldn’t look the same this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the NCAA announced basketball practice could begin July 20, Moser marked that day on his calendar and told his players to get prepared. 

As the first Loyola athletic team returning to in-person practices, Moser said he’s been working closely with Loyola Medicine to make sure the necessary safety protocols — such as coaches wearing masks and cleaning in-between practices — are in place. 

“We can complain about the protocols, we can complain about the masks,” Moser said about the return to campus. “I told my leaders ‘if you’re going to complain, our younger guys are going to complain.’ Staying positive and doing what we can. That’s been the message through everything.” 

In-person strength and conditioning training and skill instruction aren’t allowed to exceed eight hours per week, with a maximum of four hours for skill instruction, according to the NCAA. There’s technically no restriction on the amount of players allowed in the gym, but Moser said he’s decided to play it safe by limiting how many players practice together at once.

He grouped players into “pods” based on the players’ living situations and roommates. There are roughly six players in each pod. Redshirt senior guard Tate Hall said his pod includes himself, redshirt senior guard Jake Baughman, senior center Cameron Krutwig, senior guard Lucas Williamson, redshirt sophomore guard Cooper Kaifes, redshirt sophomore guard Braden Norris and junior forward Will Alcock. 

Some players had to quarantine for two weeks in Chicago before returning to campus due to the Chicago Emergency Order. Moser said first-year guard Baylor Hebb and junior forward Franklin Agunanne came from Texas — where COVID-19 numbers have increased dramatically in the recent weeks —  and had to spend some time in isolation. Redshirt senior forward Aher Uguak, came from Canada and also had to quarantine.

All coaches have to wear masks and the newest development is Moser’s electronic whistle — which he took to Twitter to show Rambler fans. 

Moser said the whistle doesn’t get much use as he prefers to use his voice.

“I was interested to see if my voice would project through a mask,” Moser said. “I am happy — I don’t know if the players are happy — to say ‘Yes it does.’”

While the players aren’t required to wear masks while practicing, they have to wear masks in other places such as athletic building hallways and the locker room, according to Moser. Basically, their faces are covered until the moment they step on the hardwood. 

Moser said players have to bring their own water bottles and towels and are required to remain socially distant as much as possible. 

The change that stood out the most to Hall was his limited access to places he said he would usually have no issue getting into. 

“We have to scan in when we go to Norville, we have to scan into the locker room or scan in and out of the gym,” Hall said. “You never had to do that before. If you were on the team, you could get in.” 

The biggest difference Moser said he’s noticed isn’t the masks or new protocols, but that the team is out of peak condition due to summer restrictions.

“We’re completely, as we should be, out of shape,” Moser said. “Normally, in a non-COVID summer, if they came back out of shape I would’ve been irate. You just have to be completely understanding. They haven’t had places to train, workout or shoot.”

Williamson said not having as much gym access as normal has led him to resort to home workouts. Hall said he was “lucky” and had access to a gym for the majority of quarantine. 

No matter what level of intensity their at-home workouts were, both players agreed the team could be in better shape. 

“Obviously basketball, you get up and down a lot,” Hall said. “You have to be in pretty good shape. It takes a tax on your body if you’re not in the best shape possible. We’ll get there the more we work out and the more we practice. It hasn’t been bad bad but it can get better.”

There’s currently no decision about the upcoming basketball season and whether or not the Ramblers will play. During a teleconference July 7, Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Commissioner Doug Elgin said the league is waiting to see “what the virus dictates” before making any decisions. Although, a press release came out July 27 detailing the plan for fall sports — basketball was not mentioned. 

Elgin did not immediately respond to request for comment.

With the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential for seasons to get pushed or even cancelled, Moser said it’s easy to want to complain. But he’s been pushing his players to look at it in the same way they would a normal season. 

He said it’s the same message he’d give even if the world wasn’t clouded by a pandemic. 

“We have to control what we can control,” Moser said. 

As a senior on the team, Williamson said he’s been making it a priority to lead by example. 

“Everybody is on the same page, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge,” Williamson said. “At the end of the day this is my last year of college. I do want to enjoy it. We have guys that this is their first year of college and they want to enjoy it. The team that makes the most sacrifices is going to come out on top. So it’s like what are we willing to give up so we can be successful?” 

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