Pandemic perspectives

High school and college basketball coaches reflect on what they learned in a year when nothing was normal.

Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy looks on during practice on July 6, 2020.

Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy looks on during practice on July 6, 2020.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely challenging and disruptive for so many, including basketball coaches.

There has been less face-to-face time with players. Development time has been lost. The season for high school coaches and their players remains in jeopardy. And a whole lot of frustration has persisted throughout.

Coaches, who as a group rely so heavily on a rhythm and certainty over the 12-month calendar year, have had to show resiliency and ingenuity over the past nine months. The basketball landscape continues to evolve due to the pandemic.

Even in this time of massive upheaval, coaches have been able to reinvent, improve and recognize areas of the game and their own coaching in a different way.

While there has been plenty of gloom over the past nine months, the positive is there have been teachable moments –– for themselves, their players and their individual programs –– that have provided an opportunity to learn, adapt and get better. For some it was a time to reflect on the job.

Coaches with local ties in both the high school and college ranks dug deep to find something they learned or have learned to appreciate that maybe only they could have gained as a coach during COVID-19 times.

Here are their thoughts:

“Covid has changed my perspective. I’m thankful for each and every opportunity I have to coach and be on the floor with our guys. I appreciate the job I have more, and I appreciate the young men I get to work with.”

-Former New Trier star and current Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich

“I think just being grateful for each day that you get with your players and staff is more significant than ever. Realizing there are so many things that you can’t control in life and when you get the opportunity to actually spend time with the people you care about, to take advantage of those moments the best you can.”

-Former Downers Grove South star Bryan Mullins and current SIU coach Bryan Mullins

“With finding ways to reach our players in these covid socially distant learning frameworks, we’ve been able to update and advance specific learning and teaching aspects of our program to take advantage of the latest technology methods.”

-Evanston coach Mike Ellis

“I’ve learned that the hardest aspects of coaching are the ones that I actually miss the most and the ones that ultimately bring the most satisfaction to everyone.”

-Homewood-Flossmoor coach Marc Condotti

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that the obstacle is the way. Most people want to complain about a situation rather than find a solution. Our job is not to make excuses, but to find creative, safe ways to make this time together impactful, important and full of life lessons. Adversity is the key to growth.”

-Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino

Loyola’s bench and head coach Tom Livatino applaud a three-point bucket last season.

Loyola’s bench and head coach Tom Livatino applaud a three-point bucket last season.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

“I have had time to learn and reflect on many things. I have had a lot of time at home with my family which was extremely needed for strengthening my faith and family. I have enjoyed the time I have had with my players without being on the road recruiting as much. It has had an effect on our player-coach relationships, and we are seeing the benefits now with our team this season. And something coach [Mark] Few stresses in our program –– “Achievement over activity” ––has been on full display with all the limitations covid has put on us. Getting results now looks totally different than it did a year ago.”

-Former Joliet Twp. star and current Gonzaga assistant Roger Powell

“Basketball is more than what we do. It’s part of who we are as people. Basketball is imbedded in us. Whether it’s zoom calls,playing with masks on or writing articles like this, we have all found ways, despite covid and decision makers, to still have basketball be a part of what we are doing.”

-Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost

“It’s made you appreciate and value relationships. Whether it was family, friends or my Loyola family, I am a person who covets and thrives on those daily interactions and not having those were hard. Isolation and quarantine teaches you to not take those relationships for granted. Be intentional with growing and and building your relationships with the people you love. As a coach, I took advantage of the time to really grow and get better, doing many zooms with fellow coaches, sharing ideas and really studying ways to improve.

-Loyola head coach Porter Moser

“The time away has given great appreciation for why we love coaching the most –– working with the kids. Seeing them develop, grow, improve and come together asteam throughout a season is alway a rewarding experience. And it’s helped me as a coach see the needs the players have for the social connection sports offer them.”

-Naperville North coach Gene Nolan

“I honestly think it’s helped me with my X’s and O’s. We haven’t been able to get in the gym with our guys at all. I took this time to really sit back, spend a ton of time with my family, watch film and study old film.”

-Hyde Park coach Jamere Dismukes

“My No. 1 takeaway is how important relationships are with our players in our program and the relationships they have with each other. Finding unique ways to stay connectedin an abruptly shortened season meant it was all the more important to stick together from spring through today.”

-Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy

“You appreciate the time you are able to spend with your family, and the most important thing is my family’s health.”

-Simeon coach Robert Smith

“Though I miss teaching the game very much, this time has solidified for me that it’s the building of relationships that truly matter in the long run. The Zoom meetings, academic checks, and individual conversations have shown me that student-athletes need the support and guidance from their coaches off the floor.”

-Glenbard East coach Al Biancalana

“The social dynamic and interaction makes all the experiences so much more cherished. And now that we’ve been devoid of that, it manifests, the missing of all those moments we create on a level we may have never felt before.”

-Joliet West coach Jeremy Krieger

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