BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The day after the NCAA canceled both the men's and women's NCAA tournaments, Aleksa Gulbe was on a plane to Latvia.
There wasn't a lot of time to process what had just happened. A 24-8 season went unfinished, a goal to host a tournament game went unknown, the dreams of a top-25 team destined to make a deep run in the postseason went unfilled.
All Gulbe knew was she was on her way home far earlier than she expected.
Life in Latvia started out like life everywhere else. As soon as Gulbe was picked up by her parents at the airport, they all went home and quarantined for two weeks.
COVID-19 cases were ramping up all over the world, and Gulbe said mostly everyone was inside and working from home in Latvia. Some grocery stores were closed on the weekend, so if you needed to get groceries, you had to go on the weekdays.
But things started to slow down toward the end of March, and life in Latvia began to open up.
"I feel like we did a great job of making sure we stayed social-distanced, washed hands," Gulbe said. "By the start of May, most of our lives just went back to normal."
In terms of basketball, most gyms were closed for Gulbe at the start of her quarantine. She had training circuits sent to her from the coaching staff at Indiana so she can stay in shape. She would lift weights and go on runs outside to fulfill her training regimen.
Then in May, she was able to practice with the head coach of the Latvian national team.
"It was good because I was finally able to get in the gym and get some shots up," Gulbe said. "I was lucky because I know some of our girls didn't have that and had to improvise."
By the beginning of June, official practices for the national team started. Gulbe said they were all well taken care of and had practices three times a week for two months.
At the start of August, Gulbe and her Latvian teammates had two weeks of intense practicing, which was followed by two exhibition games against Finland's national team.
"After that long a time of not playing basketball, it felt good to feel the energy on the court," Gulbe said. "It was awesome to have that opportunity."
It was a nice diversion to keep Gulbe in shape and playing basketball while she was away from Bloomington, but it was very clear life in Latvia was much different than life in America.
Gulbe saw all the news about how the COVID-19 cases weren't improving in the United States, and she wondered if she would have the opportunity to come back.
"At some moments when the cases peaked, we kind of thought, when is that going to come down a little bit?" Gulbe said. "When am I going to see my teammates again?"
It was a long wait, but Gulbe finally returned to Bloomington at the end of September.
"It was definitely an interesting offseason," Gulbe said. "I was home for six and a half months, which was crazy. I've never been at home for that long of a time."
Since she has been back, she has had to get used to wearing a mask again. Most of her classes are all online, so that has been a different feel than what she's used to.
"Those are probably the two biggest adjustments I have right now," Gulbe said.
As for on the court, Gulbe is getting used to playing alongside her Indiana teammates again. Coming into this season, she expects to be playing as more of the stretch four forward position.
The idea of playing that role excites Gulbe. She talked at length about how a stretch four is all about capitalizing on mismatches. If a bigger forward is defending her, she'll use her agility to go by them, and if a smaller player is on her, she'll take advantage by going in the post.
When thinking about the combination of her playing the four and Mackenzie Holmes playing the five, Gulbe smiled and said, "I like that, yeah."
She has already proven she can shoot the ball effectively from three-point range, and she can block shots as well. The addition of having Gulbe back with the team is big because she will be a key part in Indiana's success this season.
"She came back in great shape," Indiana coach Teri Moren said on Gulbe. "Body looks great, and she's shooting it well right now."
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