Basketball and society have been hit hard by the coronavirus.
It’s early April in 2020 and it feels like the world stopped turning. Billions of people across the world are on lockdown, and the sports world, normalcy as we know it, has come to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus.
Schools across the globe have been forced to transition to online education, which means both high school academic and athletic careers are being cut short. Most high school seniors graduating this spring will have to forego the cap and gown, for latex gloves and cloth masks.
We’re living in unprecedented times, and thus navigating these next few months will be nerve-wracking for everyone. Especially for student-athletes, who have had their lives uprooted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s no secret that basketball is taking the hardest hit of all sports right now. Basketball, at all levels, was rapidly approaching its yearly pinnacle of greatness, before everything was put on pause.
High school state tournaments, March Madness, and the NBA Playoffs have all been put on hold or canceled. Athletes and fans who use basketball as an outlet to escape everyday adversity, are forced away from their therapeutic activity. Basketball and society are socially distant right now.
We reached out to some of the best high school players in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the New York area to see how they’re coping without basketball, and navigating the storm ahead:
Andrew Carr, senior, West Chester East, PA.
Deuce Turner, senior, Malvern Preparatory, PA.
Paulina Paris, sophomore, Albertus Magnus, NY.
Simeon Wilcher, freshman, Roselle Catholic, NJ.
Jayden Pierre, sophomore, Elizabeth, NJ.
Devin Strickland, senior, South Brunswick, NJ.
But we have to go back. Before things were out of control.
It’s late February in North Philadelphia on a windy Saturday afternoon. West Chester East High School and Penn Wood are playing for the district 5a championship inside the Liacouras Center at Temple University. The West Chester East Vikings student section was packed with fellow students who were ready to witness another piece of history.
The Vikings, led by senior and University of Delaware commit Andrew Carr, and West Chester University commit Tym Richardson, stormed out of the second half and defeated Penn Wood, 67-43, to capture the district crown on North Broad Street.
The Vikings magical run, with the state tournament looming, was seemingly just beginning.
A week and some change later on March 10, the Vikings, unknowingly, played their last game of the season.
The contest was against Pottsville High School in the early stages of the state tournament, where WCE’s magic continued. After a bumpy first half, the Vikings claimed victory after Richardson pulled up from three in the final seconds of the game, and splashed what might have been his last high school bucket. Game. Over.
If that’s it for Richardson’s high school career, it certainly isn’t the worst way to go out. The senior forward will spend his next chapter with West Chester University and the Golden Ram’s basketball program. It’s a good get for the university, and the local product gets to stay close to home.
For Carr, he recently added another accolade to his decorated athletic resume: Daily Local News 2020 All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Carr finished his senior season averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds, leading his team to a 28-2 record.
But there was more basketball to play for the Vikings, and high schools across the northeast region of the United States and beyond.
It’s an eerily similar story on that same day for senior Devin Strickland and his South Brunswick Vikings in New Jersey. Strickland and his team won the Group 4 sectional state title in their last game, in dramatic fashion.
It’s sophomore guard Yathin Vemula with a last-second layup to win the game, and it’s the last time madness in March has felt normal. If you’re looking for your fix of sports content, you have to see this one.
Things quickly changed following a magical night for both Vikings programs. March Madness was beginning to take on a whole new meaning.
“I think after we beat Marlboro in the championship, things started kind of getting crazy,” Strickland said. “Right after that, we didn’t have school.”
The South Brunswick Vikings were champions once again for the first time since 2007, but there was more work to be done.
After the sectional championship in New Jersey, Strickland and the Vikings were still in contention for the overall Group 4 state title in Jersey. They would have faced the South Jersey champion Atlantic City at Egg Harbor Township High School. Egg Harbor announced they would no longer host the state tournament game due to the outbreak of the virus.
Soon after the news that school had been canceled surfaced, the state tournament was suspended.
Strickland is still mulling his options for where he will end up playing his college ball. “It feels great knowing that we went out as champions, but obviously I wanted to keep playing, as long as possible.”
It’s a similar story for Elizabeth High School standout sophomore guard Jayden Pierre and his team, who also won their Group 4 sectional state title.
Pierre is one of the premier guards in the state, just two years into his high school career, and cannot believe the season might be over.
“Honestly, kind of lost. Are we going to be able to play anytime soon?” Pierre questioned.
The last game for Elizabeth was played in their gym, the Dunn Center, with no spectators. It was a stark difference from usual playoff basketball for Pierre and his team.
“We played in an empty gym, no crowd, which was pretty weird,” Pierre said. Elizabeth would go on to win the game and clinch a berth into a state tournament final that would never happen.
Really weird scene here in Elizabeth as @MinutemenHoops is set to host Paterson Kennedy in the Group 4 semis in front of no fans. This is the only boys basketball game today. #njhoops pic.twitter.com/HCRMM8Z0XF
— Richard Greco (@Richard_V_Greco) March 12, 2020
Instead of preparing for the biggest game of their season, an accumulation of the team’s hard work, things change quickly.
“I haven’t worked out in a good two weeks. I went to the park and played here and there. But I haven’t really worked out on the basketball side of things,” Pierre said. The second-year player told Basketball Society that he’s been focusing on body workouts to stay in shape.
High school seasons are being cut short, and for high school players who aren’t seniors, the AAU season is also potentially on the chopping block. “A lot of things are going on in my mind,” Pierre said.
Upstate New York
New York is the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. There’s a palpable fear in the air, along with a wandering sense of uncertainty.
“Everyone is in quarantine. People are going out when they shouldn’t be,” Paulina Paris, a sophomore from Albertus Magnus High School, told Basketball Society in a phone interview. “I feel like if we all just stayed inside of our house, this would be gone quicker.”
But there’s no clear end in sight.
Paris, who just finished her second year of high school hoops, averaged 25 points and seven rebounds per game in her sophomore campaign.
The stat line comes to the surprise of no one. Paris has been all business since she stepped on the floor to begin her high school career.
Last week, Paris was notified that she had won Rockland Girls Basketball Player of the Year for the second year in a row. It’s an extraordinary feat. Paris has set a remarkable standard for herself as a young player.
Unfortunately, she is unable to celebrate the accomplishment with her friends and teammates. In fact, Paris hasn’t seen her teammates in close to a month.
“It’s definitely upsetting because I want to see my friends again. But most importantly. I want AAU back,” Paris said. “I don’t want to miss a year of AAU.”
Paris has been heading to a local track with her father to run, while things in New York are on strict lockdown. Sometimes they will head to a local park to get shots up.
It’s all in an effort to keep things as normal as possible.
Without basketball, things can’t be normal. “I want to be back on the courts with my teammates again,” Paris said.
There is always hope for next season. Unless there isn’t.
Simeon Wilcher is a freshman at Roselle Catholic high school. It did not take long for Wilcher to join his school’s varsity basketball team and make a substantial impact. So much of an impact, that major college programs are already taking notice.
As of early April, the freshman guard has offers from UCLA, Iowa, Xavier, Saint Johns, and Auburn.
But college is a long way away, and the biggest honor of Wilcher’s freshman season wasn’t the attention of major Division-1 basketball programs; it was playing on the same team as his big brother, CJ Wilcher, a senior at RC who is headed to Xavier.
Along with the rest of high school tournaments around the country, Roselle Catholic’s playoff run ended prematurely, after winning the North Jersey Non-Public B sectional championship against Gill St. Bernard’s.
The younger of the two Wilcher brothers took the tournament’s cancellation especially hard since there would be no Tournament of Champions to determine the undisputed New Jersey champion.
“I didn’t talk that whole night and the day after,” Wilcher said. “I didn’t talk Thursday and Friday.”
Undoubtedly, the Wilcher brothers will have more chances to play together on a basketball court in the future. But there isn’t a redo for high school seniors, and Simeon Wilcher cannot believe his time playing with his big bro in high school is over.
“I was hurt. I was hurt because I didn’t want to win that for me. Like I wanted to win that for my brother too.”
It’s no secret that the Wilcher family has been terrorizing New Jersey gyms across the state. Don’t take my word for it, look no further than his first high school varsity bucket.
If you listen closely, you can hear his father, Sergio Wilcher, with the call: “The assist from his brother!”
“Who could have thought he would have been the person to throw me my first high school bucket,” Wilcher said. New Jersey is going to have to get used to seeing that for the next three seasons.
A beginning of a season-long passing of the torch. An iconic moment that features the brother’s biggest fan, their outspoken father.
When the news of the season’s suspension surfaced, Wilcher took to Instagram to send a message to the basketball world.
“That message was to tell the world: That’s always going to be a piece of me. I’m never going to forget this whole year,” Wilcher said.
Certain moments and opportunities in life simply cannot be replaced. For senior Deuce Turner, the all-time leading scorer at Malvern Preparatory, his first reactions to things being shut down weren’t even about basketball.
“It wasn’t even so much basketball. It was like, ‘Wow, prom I was looking forward too… I was supposed to go three different proms this year,” Turner said.
Turner has committed to start his next chapter at Bucknell University, but he isn’t ready to close this one.
Turner surpassed 2,000 points in his high school career, a truly remarkable feat. When you hit 1,000 career points they stop the game, bring your family on the court, everything. When you hit 2,000? Turner had the whole town shut down.
The stats are impressive, but Turner’s work ethic is what really stands out on the basketball court. Turner told Basketball Society that he is still getting 500 shots a day in the air, despite not having a place to shoot.
“Not being able to actually go out there on the courts and shoot for some time now, is tough. It’s tough. It’s real tough,” Turner said.
But Turner is still a high school student first. The Bucknell University-bound star player is just like every high school senior in America right now, he’s being forced to abruptly end a chapter in his life that we as Americans hold sacred: Your senior year.
Instead of soaking up the final stretch of high school life, Turner is isolated from all the high school friends and relationships he’s built over the years. He lives 35 minutes by car from the school.
“I’m not sure if I’m gonna be able to see those guys again. So that’s taking a toll on me mentally,” Turner said.
Once high school students graduate, things never quite go back to how they were before. Friends spread far and wide. People change. It’s why senior spring is sacred in American culture.
Speaking of graduation, it’s most likely not going to happen as planned. “Graduation. Everybody loves graduation. Even though I hate to watch it, but to be a part of it finally and not have it? It’s draining mentally,” Turner said.
“For those things to potentially be taken away and we won’t have them like it kind of just leaves me speechless.”
Just across town in West Chester, Carr and his senior class along with all schools in the state were informed they will not be coming back to school this year. It’s the end of a magical season, whose impact is still being felt.
“I hear stories now about all the little kids who still say ‘oh I want to go see West Chester East, I want to see Andrew play, I want to see Tym.’ It never really hits me until later,” Carr said. “I never even thought we’d get to this point, and it’s awesome.”
High schools around the world are trying to find the best way to honor the 2020 class the best way they can. Seniors will have to look ahead to the future and navigate through unprecedented uncertainty.
Carr, Turner, Strickland, they made their mark. Now it’s time for Wilcher, Paris, Pierre, and underclassmen everywhere, to make theirs.
For the sake of society, I hope we get back to basketball real soon.