On March 2, 2020, the Slippery Rock men’s basketball team walked into Johnstown to play in the PSAC Tournament and, just like everyone else, was unaware that the simple things that everyone had taken for granted would be taken away less than two weeks later. Now, almost a year after The Rock dropped that game to Pitt-Johnstown, players and coaches alike are adjusting to a winter without any basketball and a second semester of online classes.
“It’s a unique situation, it’s just unfortunate for those that are seniors in high school and college alike. We were fortunate enough that it didn’t affect our playing season and the people that it affected more on our team was the underclassmen because they didn’t get to do those spring workouts,” head coach Ian Grady said. “There’s nothing you can do about it, but your heart goes out to the young people affected by this.”
This year, however, the Rock has only one senior, which is extremely rare for any team and in comparison, last year the team had four seniors. That senior is Eric Taylor, who would have been in his second season at the Rock. Before coming to SRU, Taylor played at the Community College of Beaver County where the team went 46-8 in his two years spent there.
“We don’t measure the value to the team by minutes played in games, Eric has been a huge contributor, and no one is outworking him, when he’s given his opportunities, he makes the most of them,” Grady said.
Taylor is majoring in petroleum and natural gas engineering and because of that, when this season was over, he would have still had another year of school left. But, with the NCAA granting all athletes an extra year of eligibility, Taylor will be able to play next year should games proceed.
“At first I was pretty upset when the season was canceled, but I realized I’ll be able to come back next year and play since the NCAA granted the extra year of eligibility,” Taylor said. “Things have actually kind of worked out perfectly, because this was going to be my last year on the court, but I still had another year of school left.”
It was announced back in October that student-athletes would be given an extra year of eligibility, even if they were able to play this year. As things start to get back on track with collegiate sports, this extra eligibility will give students the opportunity to play out their final year and also give underclassmen a year back that may have been taken away from them.
“[Recruiting] is basically like everything else, like classes have went online so has recruiting,” Coach Grady said. “It’s online now and the schools that are playing it’s hard to get into, so it’s been an adjustment but it’s just basically how everything else has gone.”
There are six freshmen on the team this season, two of them being redshirts. The team also picked up a transfer, Earl Baker, who spent his first two years at Eastern Wyoming College. Baker started 21 games over that time and appeared in 56.
Coach Grady has tried to make sure that his team has stayed in shape during this time, but, due to NCAA guidelines, team workouts are not permitted. And on top of that, there are four players who are from outside the United States. Due to COVID-19, restrictions are in place nearly everywhere, but they differ from place to place and that makes it even tougher. For some players, gyms and facilities are closed so they cannot practice or workout anywhere but home.
“The safety of our student athletes is the number one priority at every level, we want the guys to be safe and healthy, but we don’t worry about what we can’t control, and we try to make the best of a bad situation,” Grady said.
This semester is going to be much like the last, and students will barely be able to get on campus for workouts, but as testing and other protocols ramp up, the team is hopeful to be back to some sense of normalcy, sooner rather than later.
“There’s an old saying where you play every game like it’s your last and I think [COVID-19] and what it’s done has really put that into perspective and when we do get back to normal everyone is going to appreciate what we have a little bit more,” Grady said.