As most area basketball teams are either starting district play or are only a few games away from the beginning of league play, the journey that is the 2020-21 season has been filled with various challenges.
Hahnville, one of the teams to have started district play following a 66-44 win Tuesday over Terrebonne, has gotten off to an 12-1 start, with the Tigers’ only defeat being a loss to Madison Prep.
“We were able to start practice the second week of October, so we were able to start on time,” Hahnville coach Yussef Jasmin said.
Like all schools in the coronavirus era, the Tigers have had an altered routine.
“The difference was because of COVID, some of our kids are at school and some are at home,” Jasmin explained. “One of the major differences is that the kids who are at home, when they come to school for practice, we have to check their temperature checks every time they come from home to school. The young men that are at school, they already had their temperature checks before they arrive that morning. That’s one of the main things.”
As the season has progressed, the Tigers have worked out in pods.
“My freshmen group, they stay together. The jayvee group, they stay together. The varsity group stays together. Ultimately, the games that are recorded are the varsity games, so you try not to have a young man that is a jayvee player in the same group with the varsity, because let’s say he tests positive for COVID, then that impacts everybody. Focusing on the separation and keeping them separated from one another, that’s been a major difference. We pride ourselves on being family, we kind of have to do that at a distance now,” said Jasmin.
Even with precautions, issues will arise concerning practices and schedules.
“We had a situation where we had a young man test positive, so we quarantined. We hadn’t played from December 10 to January 2. We had a long break. That impacts you from a rhythm standpoint. I thought we were in a pretty good rhythm on December 10, but then we had a long break with no practice or anything until December 27. We had 17 days with nothing,” Jasmin said.
That caused the Tigers to postpone six games. Five of the games have been rescheduled, with the only one to have been made up at this point was the January 2 game against St. Augustine.
Riverside Academy, by contrast, was unable to start practice on time.
“As soon as we got out of football, the day we had our first practice, we got a call that we had to go in quarantine for 10 days,” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd recounted.
There is a usual overlap from season to season in high school athletics, but that has been more glaring this year as the football season was delayed and extended because of COVID-19.
“It was a little different from the fact that football lasted so long. They are not extending the basketball season. A lot of teams, including us, had to quarantine. We got a late start in basketball,” said Byrd.
The Rebels are 6-2 at a point in the season where they normally would have played close to 20 games.
“We haven’t had many practices and many games, but this team has shown a lot of great maturity,” Byrd said. “We have four seniors that have been in the program for a long time and they have really stepped up. Gage Larvadain has been incredible. All four of our seniors start and they are doing an incredible job. We are further along than I was expecting.
“This team has a real shot, even though it doesn’t have any size. It has a real shot to go deep, deep, deep in the playoffs.”
Among games missed by the Riverside was the cancelled Sugar Bowl Classic. To pick up some additional games, the Rebels are currently hosting the 10-team Riverside Academy Invitational.
At Lutcher, the Bulldogs’ basketball team has been accustomed to waiting on an influx of football players.
“Since I’ve been at Lutcher, I’ve kind of conceded that the bulk of my kids are coming from football and we’re not going to install a whole lot until football is over,” Bulldogs coach J.P. Piper said. “I don’t usually play games until after Thanksgiving and I don’t do a whole lot of serious practicing. I will do a lot of conditioning and shooting but really don’t do much until football is done.
“This year is unique in that football is backed up, so I actually had to cancel my first game and first tournament because I didn’t have players. We only had six kids out for basketball and three of those were ineligible so we couldn’t have played a game if we wanted to until football season ended.”
That led to a unique experience for Piper.
“Once football season ended, they finished on a Friday night and we had a practice on Monday and played a game on Tuesday. With one day of practice, which I’ve never done in 30 years of coaching, went out and played a high school game. Fortunately, we did well. We are pretty talented this year.”
Still, there has been a lot to adapt to.
“I’m still putting stuff in. I’m still having to call timeouts and teach and draw things up that we haven’t been able to go over in practice that kind of present themselves in the games,” the Lutcher coach said.
Despite the challenges, the Bulldogs are off to a 6-1 start. Several factors have attributed to the good start, according to Piper.
“I’m very fortunate to have a talented group of kids,” said Piper. “I’m having a lot of fun because they are letting me coach them. They are doing what I’m asking and they’re trying to implement the things we are teaching them.
“Coach Alton Joseph has come over from East St. John and joined my staff and that has been a tremendous addition in terms of helping me with the relationships with the kids and getting them to buy into what we are trying to do. We are having fun. It’s good. It’s the best it’s been since I’ve been here.”
Another factor may be lessons learned by the players concerning life in the coronavirus era.
“We talk about how lucky we were to finish our season last year,” Piper said. “I reminded them that the day after we went and watched Marsh Madness in Lake Charles, they quit letting fans in and baseball didn’t get to finish their season. I said every night we step on the floor is a gift. There is no guarantee this won’t be our last game. Who knows what will happen? They have embraced that, and they appreciate that they shouldn’t take things for granted. They are young kids, so how much of that sticks, I don’t know, but we are talking about it.”