Story by Will Carter / Sports Editor
Everything the players worked for was gone in the blink of an eye. The thought of a shutdown was in the back of everyone’s head, but no one expected it to come to fruition. The following season wasn’t any easier. Players were required to be tested every few days. Practices were limited. Workout groups diminished to workout partners. Team meals transitioned to one-on-one meals with your roommate. Forming a bond within the Blue Raiders’ team was a game within itself.
Donovan Sims has played for Middle Tennessee State University since his freshman year in 2017. Sims is now considered a graduate student, but he still has eligibility left granted by the NCAA to all players in response to the pandemic. When his and the Blue Raiders’ season was shut down, shock was felt throughout.
“We all have social media, so we knew what was probably coming, but you never think your season will be shut down,” Sims said. “Everyone was at the conference tournaments, and you work so hard to get there, then to the NCAA tournament.”
Most sports, especially basketball, revolve around a team as a whole rather than individuals. The togetherness and bond a team has is one of the most important qualities required for success. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, that aspect of sports was stripped away. In the Spring of 2020, all sports shutdown due to the growth of the virus. College athletics took the hardest hit in basketball as teams were entering their conference tournaments. The following season in college basketball was a task no one could have ever prepared for.
“In college basketball, you call your teammates your brothers. Last year, we didn’t have a chance to be connected and form a bond with each other,” Sims said. “Last year, we met everyone two weeks before the season started other than on Zoom. It’s tough to get a good gel as a team when you can’t be around each other.”
Blue Raiders’ Coach Nick McDevitt was hired in the Spring of 2018. So far, McDevitt only has one “normal” season under his belt for MTSU. His second season was cut short, and his third was a battle with keeping himself and his players virus-free while also trying to win games. The last 20 months were not easy for any coach.
“It’s been devastating in all walks of life. The tournament being shut down, then the following season being something that no one has ever experienced was very unique,” McDevitt said. “We weren’t allowed to be around each other or be on campus last summer. So players were still introducing themselves to each other when the season was rolling around.”
Navigating through a pandemic has been a struggle for everyone whether you are a sports person or not. Now that restrictions have lessened and become slightly relaxed, teams can get back to their roots.
“We’re all just blessed to be out here and play the game,” Sims said. “We make sure we are still being safe, and the whole team is vaccinated, so we’re doing everything we can to have a normal season.”
“Being able to have meals and hangout with the entire team rather than just your roommate is a huge difference. Team chemistry is really important in this game,” McDevitt said. “To not be around your teammates is a tall order in a team sport.”