By Tom Mueller
College athletics officials may not envy athletes’ summer workouts, yet they are entranced by their necessity. Predicated on compliance with local government restrictions, the NCAA and the Pac-12, among other conferences, released guidelines towards the end of May allowing member schools to resume voluntary on-campus workouts beginning June 1 and June 15, respectively; subsequent guidelines issued by the NCAA allow schools to begin mandatory summer workouts for men’s and women’s basketball beginning July 20.
For men’s basketball’s rising junior guard Bryce Wills and women’s basketball’s rising senior forward Maya Dodson, the lack of mandatory practice and the need to return home for Stanford’s spring quarter has prompted anything but a period of relaxation.
While the NCAA’s timeline progresses and dates given to return to practice activities have now passed or are looming benchmarks, players returning to campus must prepare to embrace the proverbial ‘new normal’ of in-person training. For Wills returning to campus would be preferable as soon as Maples Pavilion becomes accessible.
Since returning home to New York in mid-March, the closures of public parks — and the consequential “de-rimming” of basketball hoops therein —have forced Wills to reimagine his training regiment with novel processes, including more body weight workouts and utilizing a nearby track for conditioning.
“The past week or two I’ve been able to get in a gym around me [because] my old high school is allowing two or three people in to workout at a time,” said Wills. “But I know that, on campus, Maples [Pavilion] isn’t really open yet.”
The use of online tools, such as Zoom, to communicate with teammates and staff members has supported Wills’ continued preparation, and he believes that such measures have kindled benefits ahead of the team’s return to campus.
“I’ve been working with our strength and conditioning coach Mike Chapman, [and] he’s been giving me some individualized workouts to do with the resources I’ve had in my neighborhood,” said Wills.
“When [Stanford men’s basketball] comes back to campus, I feel like we’re going to be closer as a team than we were before we left because of the circumstances and how we, as a team, have been corresponding and dealing with it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure that [me] and all the guys are ready to get back on campus and get straight to work. We have some unfinished business to attend to.”
That unfinished business was booming before the coronavirus ended the Cardinal’s first 20-win season since 2014-15; Wills experienced personal success conjunctively with that of his team posting a career high 25 points against Arizona in February and getting selected to the Pac-12 All-Defense team. With the No. 11 recruiting class in the nation and the return of key players Oscar de Silva, Daejon Davis and Wills, it seems as though business could be finished this upcoming season.
On the women’s team, risk-averseness defines Dodson’s training mindset. Although she has been living in Georgia, which was the first state to begin reopening recreational facilities in late April, her dedication to reducing public outings since withdrawing from Stanford’s campus has served dual purposes: keeping her safe and keeping her prepared.
“Georgia has opened a lot of places such as gyms [and] restaurants, but I still find myself not going out as much as I [normally] would,” said Dodson. “I usually would go to our local gym to workout, but I am still hesitant and make sure to limit the amount of time I go out in general.”
Though Dodson’s caution about leaving the house amidst Georgia’s rapid reopening continues, she appreciates the liberty that the lack of social distancing orders creates in her off-season routine.
“I am happy I am able to pick and choose when I go to the gym or physical therapy though,” Dodson continued. “Not all student-athletes have that opportunity, especially if they live somewhere with stricter restrictions.”
Extemporized drills during training sessions have typified Dodson’s approach to practicing, mitigating the effects of having less equipment than is accessible on campus. While the voluntary nature of team-related workouts precludes training deadlines and constant supervision, players have still received suggested workouts and guidance as needed.
“The workouts are not as exhaustive as if we were at school, because we have ranging abilities for people to get to a gym or not,” said Dodson. “I know what kind of drills [and] exercises we usually do and use that knowledge to my advantage.”
During its 34th season under the direction of legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer, Stanford women’s basketball (27-6, 14-4 Pac-12) finished the abbreviated season ranked the seventh best team in the country. Dodson believes next year could be even better.
“Every year is a special group,” Dodson said of the women’s basketball program. “I think the challenges we have gone through this off-season, in particular, will help prepare us in ways that we haven’t fully grasped yet.”
“We realize that a lot of things that we take for granted — like our basketball season — can be gone in a blink of an eye,” she continued. Knowing this, we will have a new sense of urgency and determination, [and] I can’t wait to see it play out on the court.”
As coronavirus-related restrictions continue to develop across the country, the NCAA, Pac-12 and Stanford will undoubtedly be compelled to update their policies, too. When these policies surface, they will hopefully permit seasons to commence — because the players want to play.
“Everyone has been in their homes for three or four months,” said Wills. “Everyone is just itching to get back there and hoping to get back out there as soon as possible.”
Contact Tom Mueller at mueller26tigers’at’ gmail.com