Hooping in Masks and Locker Room Tape: How Ole Miss Women's Basketball is Adjusting to the New Normal
The Ole Miss women's basketball locker room is sort of like a construction zone. There's tape everywhere and certain areas you can't even access.
No, they're not renovating the Touhey Center, it's all just the new normal for the time being in the season of COVID-19.
"To say that they're getting a D1 experience as athletes, as far as amenities are concerned, they're not," said head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. "But we're not complaining. These kids haven't complained once about anything. They're just really grateful to have a place to come and do something that they love."
None of the girls on the team have been in meeting rooms – even though the team's been back at practice since July 20, all team meetings are till taking place via Zoom.
All team lounges are completely closed off and the film room is sort of like the locker room; there's tape everywhere and everything spaced to be at least six feet apart.
The Touhey Center is littered with hand sanitizer. It's not just the coaches wearing masks on the court, the players also have to compete in masks. Basketballs are swapped out and sanitized between drills and managers who do this now tedious work are wearing gloves the whole time.
It's not normal. It won't be the new normal in the long run. But it's going to have to work for the time being.
"It's been tough but they really want to play and they really want to compete," McPhee-McCuin said. "There haven't been a lot of complaints, really just reminders. 'Hey pull your masks up.' Stuff like that, but that's something we've all had to adjust to."
For now, they have to approach the season as if this is how things are going to be all year. It's the season of uncertainty.
The last time Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter spoke on the record with The Grove Report, around ten days ago, the Southeastern Conference had not even begun addressing basketball and winter sports. They have enough on their plates right now with fall sports, specifically with trying to make football happen.
The basketball seasons still have a ton of question marks. Coaches are hopeful they'll have a better idea by this time next month.
As of now, the team is scheduled to take the court for the first time with their very overhauled roster on Nov. 10. The head coach isn't super confident in that start date, but she is confident in a season happening in some capacity.
"We'll play in some type of capacity. When? That I don't know. I will say I have a lot of confidence in our leadership," McPhee-McCuin said. "Obviously we're an indoor sport, and that changes some things. But really, I'm glad they're dealing with football now and we're not the first ones out of the block."
There's expectations of a delayed start to the season. Maybe games will start up after students leave for good around Thanksgiving. Maybe it won't be until around the turn of the new year.
Ideally, McPhee-McCuin would like to have at least two or three non-conference games to get back to a feeling of actually playing high-level basketball again. But that's where the challenges lie.
"Obviously theres the safety issues and I don't want to play against opponents that aren't testing the same as we are and going through the same precautions," she said.
SEC play, currently slated to start Jan. 2, should bring a return too consistency. All teams test the same and have to follow the same regulations on a week-to-week basis. That schedule should be in tact.
Should we expect an NCAA Tournament? McPhee-McCuin laughs.
"Man I hope so!...(pause)... But in all seriously, yes. I think we will."