Social media feeds, at least those followed by college basketball fans, were filling up with something unusual on Monday.
Pictures. Lots of them.
And not old ones, either.
After four months since COVID-19 sent the world into a shutdown and the college hoops world into prolonged hiatus, college basketball players across the country, per NCAA rules, were allowed back on their courts with their coaches to start offseason practices.
In New Mexico, both the UNM Lobos and the NMSU Aggies men’s teams took to the court with small group workouts — playing actual basketball for the first time together officially since mid-March.
“I think all of us — players, coaches, managers and trainers — have been excited for a return to some sort of normalcy in our lives,” said NMSU coach Chris Jans. “None of us are used to not being a part of a team and we have been missing those feelings of family and togetherness. It felt great to be on the floor getting some work in with our guys as we prepare for the upcoming season.”
UNM said Monday evening that 13 Lobo players are back, of which six worked out on Monday and seven others are still undergoing a mandated 14-day quarantine period — a mandate both by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for anyone entering New Mexico from out of state but also a standard requirement of all Lobo athletes to participate in summer workouts, along with a COVID-19 test.
UNM told the Journal media is not allowed in any athletics facility for photographs of the workouts due to COVID-19 precautions.
The Journal did get to interview Lobo senior Makuach Maluach, who due to not yet being back in New Mexico for 14 days, was not one of the players who worked out on Monday and was not at the facility for any of the team activities.
But he is looking forward to getting back on the court with teammates after months of such a unique, and awkward, separation from one another and from the sport they love.
“It’s great. The first three months, whatever it was, without basketball, it was really hard,” Maluach said. “Right now, it’s just good to be back and get back into small groups to work out. The whole team can’t workout (together) yet, but the small groups we have are going to go hard.”
The senior Lobo who recently returned to the United States from his home in Australia, said getting in some summer workouts for a team with so much offseason turnovers is critical, adding he still hasn’t met all the new players on the Lobos roster for the coming season (North Carolina transfer Jeremiah Francis hasn’t yet reported to Albuquerque, Maluach said).
“It’s good because we have a lot of new guys and honestly I’m just excited to getting to work with all of them,” Maluach said.
In Las Cruces, the Aggies hit the court working out in groups of four or five players at a time, all wearing masks, as are any coaches and staff members involved in any training or on-court workout sessions.
Athletic trainer Mike Anderson is on hand at the workouts wearing both a mask and face shield.
National college basketball reporter Jeff Goodman posted Monday afternoon on Twitter that he polled “85 of the 87 schools from high-major leagues” and 50 of those took the court on Monday with nine more doing so later this week. Twenty six of them, Goodman reported, will not take the court for summer workouts until at least Aug. 1.
Numerous teams were posting pictures of their players working out again — some with just coaches and support staff masked up during drills, and some teams showed players even wearing masks during the on-court drills (Boise State was one Mountain West team that posted a picture with all players working out with masks on).