In many ways, the COVID-19 crisis has complicated the 2020-21 scholastic basketball season.
So what happens when things become more complex? The natural reaction is to return to basics.
In another way, the pandemic has forced many local programs basketball programs to simplify things, to focus on fundamentals, to emphasize not putting the cart before the horse. It has really fostered a great appreciation for the game itself.
All of those things are right in the Palmyra boys’ basketball program’s wheel house.
For years, Cougar head coach Pete Conrad has preached process and stressed improvement each and every day. That message has never rung more true.
“I honestly think it’s that idea of process more,” said Conrad of the upcoming campaign. “It’s ‘control what you can control’. We talk about that every day. I’m not going to tell you we never talk about winning, but we talk about it less.
“With so much uncertainty, that’s been our emphasis,” Conrad added. “We just try to say to our guys, “It all starts with you. You can’t control every event and you can’t control every outcome, so let’s control our response.’ But I think it’s a good growth strategy every year.”
Palmyra’s start to the current season has been very similar to that of most local clubs. The Cougars began practice on time and got 11 preparation sessions in without a hitch, before being paused on December 3rd.
When practice resumes early in the new year and games begin, the Cougars will have gone almost a month without any formal in-person training.
“We do Zoom meetings or Zoom practices,” said Conrad. “We do think it’s impactful from a basketball perspective and for just staying connected. We try to give kids stuff to do in a basement or a garage. It’s not perfect, but we think it’s important. Our guys have shown some frustration. We tell them, ‘It’s nothing we can control, so let’s make the best of the situation’.
“You hope that they’re doing something to maintain or improve their skill levels,” added Conrad. “They’ve got to find ways to get some shots in. We want our guys to be lifting. The cardio component has been the third piece. We feel it might be pretty quick when we do hop back into it. But we really emphasize just getting better.”
For Palmyra, there’s plenty of room for growth.
The Cougars are coming off a 5-17 campaign which may have overshadowed the improvement they witnessed within the team. But while getting better is certainly a noble pursuit, eventually it must pay off in some sort of tangible way.
“Last year was a little bit frustrating,” said Conrad. “We try not to talk about wins and losses. We try to talk about getting better. But with that said, of course you want to win, and you’ve got competitive guys. There were some disappointments. We’ve got some veteran guys who have grown in confidence.
“I do think this season is a fresh slate,” Conrad continued. “Teams are different from one year to the next. I think for this group, last year is a motivation. I’ve seen guys point to that. We’re taking that as a positive.”
At the top of the Palmyra rotation are senior guard Roman Byler, versatile senior forward Chris Edwards, skilled senior guard Anthony Alviani and tough, hard-working sophomore Eli Becker. It’s one thing to improve individual skills, but getting better as a unit is a totally different animal.
“I think we shoot it pretty well,” said Conrad. “We’re going to have five guys who can look at the rim, but who can also pass and dribble. I do think we’re pretty unselfish. We do move the ball. We have guys who are willing to give up their shots to get a better one. On the offensive side, there’s a foundation to build on.
“I think we just want to improve across the board, fundamentally,” Conrad continued. “I do think we have the fundamentals. But it’s a day-to-day process of continuing to work on them.”
The Cougars have some roles that still need to be defined and filled. With junior guard Daniel Baldo, junior guard Gavin Bean, junior point Quinton Townsend, sophomore guard Brennan Almond and junior Trey Hilbert, Palmyra possesses the potential to be deep and versatile.
Due to postponements and cancellations, Palmyra’s shortened schedule currently stands at 16 contests, but it might include as many as 18 games, or more. Realistically, the Cougars could open their season as early as January 8th.
“Most programs are doing something over this pause,” said Conrad. “If the concern is playing good basketball, at least we’re all going to be in the same boat. We’ve been operating under the premise that we’re going to be pretty ready to play.
“I really do believe athletic directors have a thank-less jobs,” concluded Conrad. “Our guy (Brian Weidler) has worked really hard under difficult circumstances. He’s doing his best to get eveybody as many games as possible.”