Panther practice

Chanute freshman Tye Coombs in his defensive stance at practice.

ROBERT MAGOBET

After several weeks off for holiday break, the Neosho County Community College men’s basketball team returned to campus on Jan. 4 for the 2021 season. 

The goal: to ramp things back up in a truncated COVID-19 season, and to make sure the entire team is playing as a unit. But to do so, student-athletes need to adhere to campus and KJCCC protocols, including getting tested, wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands frequently. With no quarantines as of right now, everybody on the team is back and ready to play ball, including the players who weren’t present last fall: sophomore forward Daniel Titus and freshman small forward Malik Carson. Two likely contributors on this NCCC team, they ended their individual workouts at home – Titus in Australia and Carson in Baltimore – and rejoined the team with everybody else.

“We really have been focusing on a lot of that stuff with them just letting them know, ‘Hey man, we want to have a season,’” NCCC head coach Jeremy Coombs said. 

“And at the end of the day, nobody likes wearing the masks or things like that. But at the end of the day, you gotta do what you gotta do so that you can do what you want to do.”

Coombs has been leading a stringent schedule to make sure his players take care of business. Players are in and out of the gym twice daily, including a 3 pm rigorous practice, and just a few hours later, they’re back in Panther Gymnasium to get some shots for an hour or two until around 8 pm.

As expected, players didn’t come back in basketball shape. In years past, student-athletes would leave for Christmas break and return to action in just seven days. But this year players were off for 40-plus days due to the season being postponed.

Taking this into consideration, Coombs and his coaching staff, including assistant coach Justin Fairman, mapped out a plan. 

“It’s bad as far as our conditioning, but it’s coming around. We didn’t really dive in and try to run them to the ground; we gradually moved into it,” Coombs said. “So now we’ve gotten up to the point where we are doing some stuff conditioning-wise that’s pretty tough and they are able to get it done. I feel like we are making some really good strides in that aspect.”

Players are participating in drills including suicides and other conditioning exercises, and even free throw contests. Between each drill, players are hustling up to maintain their conditioning.

But players are preparing to play in an environment with no fans. On Nov. 30, the KJCCC voted to not allow fans to attend sporting events for the first month of the 2021 spring semester. As of right now, fans will not be permitted to attend events through Feb. 5, when the topic will be revisited to make a decision on whether fans will be granted access for the rest of the spring.

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