The University of Alabama women's basketball team was in the middle of practice when it got word that all postseason play, including the NCAA tournament and NIT, had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Crimson Tide coach Kristy Curry's squad was coming off a second round loss to Georgia in the Southeastern Conference tournament, but had won its final four regular season games, including a buzzer-beating victory at No. 9 Mississippi State and a double-digit road win over No. 12 Texas A&M.
News of a cancelled postseason could not have come at a worse time for a program looking to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.
"Just a lot of shock," Curry said. "Really stunned by it all. There was a lot of emotion. It happened so quickly. You look up, and in the next 48 hours, all of our players were headed to their respective homes. I absolutely hated it for our seniors."
Departures from last season include guards Amber Richardson and Cierra Johnson, forward Ashley Knight, and center Shelby Gibson, who has medically retired from the game of basketball.
After starting SEC play with a record of 4-8, the Crimson Tide righted the ship to finish 18-12 overall and 8-8 within the conference. Eight wins in conference play and 18 regular season wins is the most for an Alabama team since the 1997-1998 campaign.
Curry notes that the toughness and resilience displayed throughout the year will always make this team special in her mind.
"I will always remember the grit of this 2020 team," Curry said. "We were in a position to take the next step and turn the corner. We had high hopes for the NCAA tournament, and definitely the NIT. We still feel like we are right there."
Over the last two months, Curry has enjoyed the time spent with her husband. Kelly, and two daughters. She says her and her staff have had to get more creative in terms of working virtually with their players.
"We have had so much more family time," Curry said. "I have probably had more family time now than in the last five years or so. It has been nice to have some meals together and just hang out so it kinda has been a blessing in disguise. We also have worked really hard to stay engaged with our players."
Through Zoom and FaceTime, players are going through position meetings with assistants weekly. Curry leads meetings with everyone that involves going through set and inbounds plays, and the group is going through a leadership book called, "The Hard Hat: 21 Ways To Be A Great Teammate".
"I feel like, whenever we come out of this, we are going to be better than we were," Curry said. "We have been busier than you would think. We are going to have a lot of new ideas when we all get back together."
Curry says she is also working the phones, multiple hours of the day recruiting prospects from across the country.
This past fall and spring, the Crimson Tide welcomed a signing class of five members that includes Middle Tennessee State transfer Taylor Sutton, centers Ruth Koang and Alana Busby-Dunphy, and guards Myra Gordon and Keyara Jones.
"I think they all come from winning backgrounds," Curry said. "They give us size and athleticism. We feel like we are deeper than before. We love this group. All of these kids have experience playing at a real high level. Adapting to the SEC will take some time, but they know how to win."
The plan for Sutton is to sit out next year, but the infusion of new talent mixed with returnees like guard Jordan Lewis, who was named the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the Year, forward Jasmine Walker, who earned All-SEC Second Team honors last year, and guard Meghan Abrams, who started all 30 games in the 2019-2020 campaign, gives Curry confidence going into her eight season at the Capstone.
"No longer are we that team that everyone checks off as a win," Curry said. "We are excited because we feel like we give ourselves a chance to win every night in this league."
Curry mentions that, to her knowledge, her players have done a solid job of getting physical workouts in during the quarantine, despite many of them not having access to a gym in order get shots up.
"We feel like our kids are brought in and working hard," Curry said. "We are anxious for gyms to reopen and our players to have more resources available to them. All states are different and you are starting to see that happening soon."
Throughout Zoom meetings, Curry senses that her players are ready to leave it all on the line in the 2020-2021 campaign, leaving no doubt as to their NCAA tournament status.
"All of our girls want to leave no doubt," Curry said. "They want to leave no doubt, next season, that we are an NCAA tournament team. A lot of them have mentioned to me that have missed their routine, so I think you are going to see a lot of gratitude from my girls whenever we get back on the court, gearing up for the season. All we can do right now is use the time we have now to propel us into the future."