Men’s Basketball 2020-21 Season Preview
A season of sacrifice
Loyola’s men’s basketball team is preparing for its 103rd season in program history, with championship aspirations and a pandemic to navigate
In a typical summer, Lucas Williamson—a senior captain on Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team—would throw himself into pickup games at will. He’d shoot, and shoot, and shoot some more. And he’d keep his body in what he calls “basketball shape,” a level of fitness that regular cardio and weight lifting can’t quite approximate.
This was anything but a typical offseason.
Williamson’s dad is 73 years old, making him more susceptible to the ravages of COVID-19. Williamson’s girlfriend also falls into a high-risk category. Because the Chicago native is taking the coronavirus seriously, open gyms were out of the question. “I just don’t know where people have been,” Williamson says. “I don’t trust people.”
To compensate, he ran himself through high-intensity interval trainings at Loyola Park and CrossFit sessions at a gym in Evanston. He stayed connected with his teammates and coaches over text and Zoom. In short, he waited as patiently as he could for another chance to hoop safely. For athletes wired like Williamson, head coach Porter Moser equates losing floor access with “taking away their favorite toy.”
On July 20, the men’s basketball team held its first formal practice of the 2020-2021 season—the 103rd in school history, and one that promises to be the program’s most unusual yet. There was genuine excitement and relief, along with rust to sand off and trepidations to address. “On a normal, non-COVID summer, if they came back this out of shape, I’d have been irate,” Moser says. “You just have to be completely understanding.”
In the ensuing months, the team and staff have successfully kept the virus at bay. To mitigate risk, Moser is following guidance from public health experts at Loyola Medicine, folks who “know the science” and who the athletic department trust. Some players quarantined for 14 days upon their return to Chicago. Once cleared, everyone was assigned to a “pod,” a small group (often roommates) with whom they trained and interacted. (No full scrimmages in those initial weeks, and certainly no off-campus parties.) Players wear masks everywhere, right until the moment they step onto the floor. Coaches, meanwhile, stay in masks and gloves even in the gym. Everyone scans their Loyola IDs to get anywhere in Norville Center. Nobody shares water bottles and towels. On top of it all, there’s consistent COVID-19 testing conducted through the Wellness Center. (For two weeks in the middle of November, the team paused all activities because of positive COVID-19 tests results among the team's personnel, which consists of student-athletes, coaches, managers and staff.)
The MVC expects to kick off conference basketball play on December 30. Though schedules are still in flux, the NCAA has greenlit athletic directors to line up non-conference matchups starting on November 25. With so many moving pieces and pandemic-related uncertainty, Moser is asking his team to focus on what they can control, and to stay as positive as they’re able. His office door is open for socially distanced griping, should someone feel frustrated or anxious. Otherwise, the goal—winning a conference championship—remains the same. “The team that makes the most sacrifices is going to come out on top,” Williamson says. “What are we willing to give up so that we can be successful?”