'It's like a preseason now'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rick Greene and Carl Clark have both been coaching a long time, and neither has seen a season like this one.
If it isn't having a game or a practice scrubbed because classes were called off by snow, then it's a long stretch of idle time caused by the Kanawha Valley's water crises, or schedules thrown into chaos by a below-zero cold snap.
In other words, a lot of hoopla and very little hoops.
"No, I've never seen anything like this at all,'' said Greene, who's in his 21st season as George Washington coach. "Now we've had snow days, and all of the sudden it hits you with bad days, but never a streak like this. It's like a preseason now. It's almost like you're starting over if you've been hit by water, cold and snow.''
The Patriots (7-2) are one of the harder-hit teams by this winter's copious complications, having been forced to reschedule six games so far.
They played just their ninth game on Saturday, beating Class AAA No. 2 Huntington 65-60. Last season, they played their ninth game on Jan. 10 and had 14 games in by Jan. 24.
With the Mountain State Athletic Conference's vital divisional games just starting - the games that decide who plays for the conference championship - time is of the essence.
"It's been terrible,'' said GW senior guard Jon Elmore, the team's leading scorer and VMI recruit, "because you'll have school and have practice, then go three days without practicing. So it's hard to stay in condition. Guys have been getting into the gym on their own and trying to stay in shape, and keep getting better.''
Conditioning has become the buzzword no coach likes to use at this point of the season, when teams should be at or near their physical peak.
At least three different times during Capital's 63-60 win against Riverside on Thursday, players from both teams stormed downfloor after a missed shot - and then all 10 almost came to a complete and awkward stop as the ball remained in play. It was apparent they were catching their breath.
"It's hard when you get tired," said Clark, the Cougars' 20th-year coach, "and people say, 'Keep going,' and 'Do something.' Your mind says 'yes,' but your body says 'no.' And it's a difficult situation when you're [usually] conditioned to be able to handle those-type situations.''
Capital (6-1) has played just seven games, the same as Riverside (4-3), with only five weeks remaining in the regular season. Like most Kanawha Valley teams, they've also missed plenty of practice time.
"I think the whole non-practice, non-game thing is just killing us,'' said Warriors coach Ryan Carter. "Our conditioning is shot.''
Clark wonders if his team will ever reach its potential because of the stop-and-start conditions. Another shot of snow was expected Sunday night going into today.
"We haven't been able to get any continuity in what we're doing out there,'' Clark said, "because we haven't practiced. Then the kids get winded quick - in the first quarter. We're making substitutions and it's . . . we're just not playing well, and a lot of it has to do with not being able to be on the court and practice.''
Greene said he's also been subbing in more players than perhaps he might have intended just to keep five bodies in motion.
"It hurts us with Jon more than anybody else,'' Greene said, "because we rotate a lot of people. But it is a conditioning thing - even for Jon or anybody else. And it's a huge thing, because once you get tired, you can't play this game. You just can't.
"When you're playing a team like Huntington, if you're tired - you're dead. It's not the kids' fault. They haven't been in the gym. I'm happy with our conditioning considering that. We can't hardly even run sets now. You're trying to click some things off.''
The situation has caught the eye of more than just coaches, too.
Patrick O'Reilly of St. Albans, a member of the Southern Board of Approved Basketball Officials and a referee/umpire in five sports, drafted a letter concerning the matter to Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County Board of Education.
"When the school closure extends beyond one or two days,'' O'Reilly wrote in his letter, "it raises the following safety concerns: athletes are prone to all kinds of injuries when their activity level is shut down and muscles atrophy. As a point of reference, West Virginia secondary school principals, acting through their agent, WVSSAC, have mandated a strict policy: athletes must go through a 14-day pre-season training and conditioning program before they can participate in actual games.''
Citing "safety considerations,'' O'Reilly petitioned the Kanawha Board to "enact a policy requiring basketball teams to engage in conditioning drills, training and practice during times when schools are closed as a result of unusual circumstances exceeding two days.''
On the flip side, teams will now race the clock to try and get in most or all of the 22 regular-season games they're allotted, and for MSAC teams, their important divisional games.
GW is scheduled to play four games next week, Greene said, then three the following two weeks.
"You can survive playing three [per week],'' Greene said, "because you can get in the gym a couple times [for practice] and get some rhythm to it.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.