Choosing to embrace a “the cup is half full” perspective, I will say that I am grateful for the opportunity to watch livestreamed high school basketball games. Given I still have a daughter playing high school basketball, I would so much rather be in the gym — as would nearly every fan I know — and I would love to have seen a full season of basketball, and the conference, sectional and state playoffs, but at the end of the day, the kids had the opportunity to play and that makes for a half-full cup. It would be my guess that after months of uncertainty, virtual learning and cancelled sports seasons, the players would agree.
I caught up with coach Lester McNair to discuss the Ithaca High Little Red boys’ season, and he said. “I have known most of them since they were in the GIAC summer league, and I have had the pleasure of coaching them for the last couple of years.” He added, “We only got 11 games in this year – and it was a challenge – but they have learned a lot, and to their credit, the players worked hard, stayed together and supported one another.”
Describing the twists and turns the team faced, and expressing his belief that learning to adjust to those changes will serve these young men well moving forward, the coach said, “They had to deal with a lot of safety protocols. They wore masks all the time, sanitized often, did contact tracing, temperature checks and every player had an app on his phone to help with those protocols.” He added, “They had to travel in smaller groups, as the varsity and JV could not be on the same bus, and they had to change in the bathrooms, two at a time since the locker rooms were closed down.”
Given basketball teams were notified in late January that there would indeed be a (partial) season in 2021, the lack of conditioning could be expected to be a big factor. In “normal” times, many of the players are coming off a fall sport – football, soccer, cross-country – and their cardio base is already there, or they have been engaged in full-on conditioning without any doubt they would need it. This year, teams were notified in late January, they took the court for practice on Feb. 1, they got in the gym and started their drills, and they made many adjustments, including building team chemistry in a compressed time frame and attaining some level of comfort while playing while wearing a mask.
McNair said, “Our players have shown that the true heart of a champion is to make the most of your situation, and our biggest takeaway as a team is that you learn to cherish the things you love because you never know when it might be taken away. It really did take a great effort – the schools, the administration, the Health Department the team – and they really learned a lot about how to be there for each other.”
This year’s Little Red team featured six seniors, and McNair said he was very grateful for the perseverance and leadership they showed in the face of so much uncertainty and change. Those six seniors are: Sam Lynch, Nick Cartmill, M’Khuzo Sokoni, Ja-Lyn Griffin, Karije Henderson, Kade Eells. McNair complimented the rest of the roster, saying, “The underclassmen coming up put forth a fantastic, all around total team effort, and they will be the next great group to represent the program.” Those players are: Tyrone Dean Jr., Justin Yearwood, M.J. Thomas, Sai’d Galloway, Kaiden Malpasso and Kariyahn Johnson.
Regarding the livestreaming, it has been interesting to see how different schools have responded to the new necessity. Some have featured some actual production value — complete with graphics, play-by-play announcers and frequent looks at the scoreboard — while others seemed to have set up a stationary camera and walked away from it until after the game. One school went to a graphic during a fourth quarter timeout, and forgot to return to live action until several minutes later, missing some key action. That was frustrating, as it seems it would be possible to find a student with a legitimate interest in putting on a good show, so to speak.