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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Tallassee coach Keiven Mixson directs his team.

Winter sports may be the last high school season directly affect by the COVID-19 pandemic but that does not mean the offseason has been any easier for coaches. Many basketball programs have seen their tryouts and spring evaluation dates come and go without having the chance to see their players for the upcoming season.

“It makes it really hard because you don’t know when you can get started,” Stanhope Elmore boys basketball coach Terry Hardy said. “We don’t even know if we can do any sort of summer workouts. As far as tryouts, we will have to have it as soon as school gets back in. We will have to work around the football players. It’s going to be rough.”

The Mustangs were planning to have their tryouts April 10 but now Hardy, along with the rest of the state’s basketball coaches, are having a hard time making plans for a new season without knowing which players will be playing this season. 

Last season, the Mustangs had to make some late adjustments when DJ Jamerson transferred in and Hardy could not dedicate all of his time with the team until after football season. Hardy said he will not be on the football staff this year and he hopes that helps with making up for lost time due to the coronavirus.

“I am only going to work on basketball so that will help me a lot,” Hardy said. “Hopefully I have a better idea. We’re going to have a preseason this year so.”

Stanhope Elmore had five seniors on the roster last year so there are plenty of available minutes to fill in next year’s rotation.

Tallassee boys coach Keiven Mixson is dealing with the same thing as the Tigers graduated a bulk of their production and are now facing a setback without knowing what new players can step into those roles next season.

“Having our six seniors to replace, this is a big deal,” Mixson said. “I pride myself on running a developmental program. We have to develop players so this hurts us a lot. I’d like to know who my team is and I have an idea but the biggest question is how long we go before we can have a tryout.”

Some teams are more fortunate which is helping them stay more positive as they wait for the new season to arrive. Elmore County girls basketball coach Amy Rachel did not lose any starters from last year’s team.

“Luckily, only losing a couple of kids to graduation, we have a pretty good idea of what the team will look like,” Rachel said. “We hope we can get the majority of them back. It gives me an idea of what positions we have filled already and what we need to fill in. I could be in a much worse position.”

Although she has most of her key players coming back, Rachel still is unsure about what improvements have been made in the offseason and how new players from the middle school could fit into the rotation. She admitted it’s going to be difficult but she is trying not to stress about planning for the new season until she has a timeline for a return to the gym.

“We just have to adjust and flow with it,” Rachel said. “Whenever things open back up, we will put something together or we can work something out when school gets started. The whole thing is just crazy and there is so much uncertainty. I’m trying not to put too much pressure on the kids.”

Coaches want to see their players get in work during the offseason but that can be difficult to do, especially for basketball players when all courts and gyms are closed. 

“I try to communicate with my guys to check in and make sure they’re okay but there’s really nowhere for them to go right now,” Hardy said. “There’s no gym and if they don’t have a goal at home, they can’t shoot at all. It’s going to set everyone back a little bit.”

The extra work may be harder to put in right now but once players get the chance to get back on the court, those who were focused on improving during the offseason will certainly have a leg up on their competition. Whether it’s agility drills, weightlifting or just dribbling a basketball in the driveway, any extra work can still pay off. 

“Honestly, you’re not going to be a player if you’re not working in the offseason,” Mixson said. “It has to be a habit and something you’re doing every day. The work you put in the offseason is how you get Tallassee to win a state championship.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.