Joe Girard III quickly grew bored with puzzles and has had his fill of TV and Xbox time.
Like the rest of his Syracuse University men’s basketball teammates, the sophomore guard was eager to return to the court as a unit this week following the second program pause of the season due to COVID-19 protocol.
Syracuse returned to practice Sunday and suffered a 63-60 loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday in its first game since Dec. 19. The Orange was again forced to pause soon after that outing — a 107-96 overtime victory over Buffalo in the Carrier Dome — to comply with state contact-tracing requirements due to a positive test within the Buffalo program.
Some SU players were able to access the Melo Center and go through individual drills and workouts during the most recent stoppage, which Girard III described as a blessing.
Such activities were not an option the first time the team had to pause for two weeks due to positive tests from coach Jim Boeheim and one other team member before returning for one practice session on the eve of the season opener.
“It wasn’t much because we had to follow the rules, but we were lucky enough to fortunately be able to go into the gym,” Girard III said during a Zoom call earlier this week. “We’re really excited moving forward and I’m glad we were able to get through this. It’s really hard when you’re not on the court and you don’t get to see your teammates, your brothers, being restricted with it is tough.”
Syracuse (6-2 overall) is next scheduled to host longtime rival Georgetown in its final nonconference game at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Carrier Dome to be televised on ESPN2.
SU players that were not required to isolate for the duration of the 14-day period went through a set of conditioning drills planned by the coaching staff, with an emphasis on running and sprinting and trying to maintain game shape as much as possible within the guidelines.
They also performed individual shooting drills with use of shooting-gun machines to lessen potential for contact between team personnel. The access to the gym was refreshing for players cleared to participate after growing bored with activities around their rooms during the first stint.
“There was a lot more running,” Girard III said, when comparing the two periods of program inactivity. “We were able to run a little bit the first time but that was something coach Boeheim really wanted to stress, whether it was on-the-court or off-the-court stuff. We had to do our best to keep our wind, I think that’s the biggest thing when you’re dealing with these pauses, is getting your wind right.”
The team did not make clear who was able to take part in workouts during the down period, but coach Boeheim stated after Wednesday’s loss that freshman Woody Newton played limited minutes because he was in isolation and unable to practice during that time.
Freshman center Frank Anselem was held out by the medical staff, which deemed that his return will be slower than the rest of the squad, per a team official.
Boeheim said after Wednesday’s game that SU appeared to run out of steam late, likely playing a factor in the number of missed shots off what the 45th-year coach classified as good looks. The Orange finished 12-for-38 on 3-point field goals in its return to game action after starting 7-for-15 from deep in the first 10 minutes.
“It’s hard to say, we just didn’t shoot well,” Boeheim said after the loss. “It’s a lot of time off, it doesn’t help you when you don’t practice, you don’t get into the toughness part and you don’t have your legs, our legs just ran out of gas.”
He later added: “We’ve had about eight practices. We have to get a couple in these next few days and get a few more in when we can and try to catch back up, that’s what we have to do.”
Syracuse is one of several Atlantic Coast Conference teams enduring the challenges of playing through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Orange has postponed four games thus far while its most recent opponent, Pittsburgh, was coming off its own COVID-19 pause entering Wednesday’s game.
Duke, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest also have postponed games just in the past week.
“It’s kind of draining because you’re always looking over your shoulder worried about what you can do, who you can see, who you can be around,” Girard III said. “Even at practice, you wonder when your chip goes off if you need to move away from somebody, it’s just a really hard process but you just got to accept it and move on with it because everybody is dealing with it.”
DEVENDORF STILL SEEKING DONATIONS
The initiative had surpassed $63,000 entering Thursday and Devendorf plans to choose the 10 Syracuse-area businesses that will receive the aid from the community this weekend. Devendorf is still hoping to raise $75,000 and has upped the ante twice after his initial goal of $25,000 was reached three days into the campaign.
SU STARTS HIGH IN NET RANKINGS
Syracuse’s performance prior to its recent program pause garnered national attention at the start of the past week.
Syracuse appeared at No. 25 nationally in the initial NET rankings released by the NCAA on Monday. The team entered Thursday ranked No. 36 in the NET, which will be updated each day through the rest of the season at the NCAA web site.
The NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) is the primary tool used by the NCAA for evaluating Division I men’s basketball teams. The formula, which replaced the former RPI system in 2018, was adjusted this year to consider two components in its criteria — team value index (TVI) and adjusted efficiency.
The Orange also received votes in the Associated Press Top 25 released on Monday but not enough to claim a spot in the rankings.