Grayslake Central happy to be back after COVID shutdown
The Grayslake Central boys basketball team had to hit the brakes hard shortly after getting started in this strange and COVID-19-shortened basketball season.
With a couple of cases of COVID in the program, the Rams and everyone associated with the program were forced to shut down for 14 days of quarantine starting on February 16.
Grayslake Central was 2-1 at the time.
Suddenly, there were no more games. No practices. No school. No in-person interaction.
That changed on Tuesday.
The Rams, who missed six games, had their first post-quarantine practice. Grayslake Central is the only team in the Northern Lake County Conference to experience a full 14-day quarantine.
"I'm just so glad we are healthy now and we are all so excited to get back on the court today," Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella said hours before that first practice. "I'm almost a little nervous. It's like (the first practice of the season).
"We want to get our legs under us again. We want to get shots up, work on Xs and Os. It's not that we're starting over, but we are getting back at it with the understanding that we've been off for 14 days, so we have to make some adjustments. If I have to pull back, I will, but I expect the guys will want to hit the ground running."
During the quarantine, Centella did his best to keep his players connected. That meant regular team Zoom calls for film sessions and workouts.
"We did as much as we could to stay together," Centella said. "As a P.E. teacher, I've had to put together all kinds of workouts for Zoom and there are some good workouts there. High intensity interval workouts. Some of them are pretty tough, so at least we had that.
"But how it will translate, we'll see. Really the only way to stay in basketball shape is to be on the court. Being in shape is a lot different that being in basketball shape. Being away for 14 days is obviously very tough."
The Rams were scheduled to play their first post-quarantine game on Thursday against Grant. They've got their big crosstown rivalry game at Grayslake North on Saturday afternoon.
"This isn't a normal season and we don't have a normal prep time for a big game like that," Centella said of the North game. "But we're excited about it and we're just going to be focused on ourselves and playing the best basketball that we can.
"I've been so proud of my guys. It was definitely a bummer to get the news that we had to shut things down. But they kept hope alive that we could still have a season and they've worked really hard to get back."
Time to shine:
A 14-day shutdown in the middle of a six-week season really cuts into a schedule, and into opportunities for players to show what they can do.
And yet, Grayslake Central coach Brian Centella says that senior guard Amarion Coleman had already made quite an impression before the Rams were shelved for two weeks up through Tuesday while quarantined due to a COVID-19 issue within the team.
The Rams had played just three games at the time.
Coleman was averaging 13.5 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
"I really believe Amarion is one of the best players in the Northern Lake County Conference," Centella said. "He does a bit of everything. He was one of the best defensive players in the NLCC last season and he guards the best player from the other team in every game. He doesn't shy away from that.
"He's also attacking the basket with a ton of confidence and he's a very unselfish teammate and energetic leader. His energy is infectious."
Long and lean:
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 170 pounds, Warren's Cooper Stacey has some filling out to do over the next couple years.
But in the meantime, the junior forward isn't afraid to mix it up with players who may be bigger and stronger than him.
Stacey is Warren's leading scorer at nearly 15 points per game. He also plays the most minutes on the team but has the least turnovers.
"Cooper is able to score against even the best defensive teams in our conference," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "He's very long and slender, very lean, but he will attack the basket. He's not afraid. He's a scorer and a threat from anywhere. He can also shoot 3s."
Jasnoch brought Stacey up to the varsity for last year's state tournament. Before that, he was a star on the sophomore team, and was its main scorer.
"He has progressed exactly as you would expect him to since then. He's doing a great job," Jasnoch said. "Now, Cooper just needs to get in the weight room and keep working."
Keeping heads up:
It's a phrase heard a lot during this basketball season.
"We're just happy to be playing, happy to have a season."
It's true at Lakes, just as much as anywhere, and it's gotten the boys basketball team there through a rough start.
Heading into this week, the Eagles were 0-7.
"We've felt a little snakebit because we've been competitive in every game, losing by 1 point, by 3 points," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "We just haven't been able to come through at the end."
With a young team, including three sophomores who get significant minutes, Snyder looked to seniors Jake Sanders and Branden Nava for leadership during the rough patch.
Sanders, the Eagles' point guard, averages about 13 points a game and Nava is at about 10 points per game.
"They've been so solid for us," Snyder said. "They've been doing good things and keeping guys positive and that's why we've been knocking at the door.
"It's tough, because all our guys have been working hard and coming to every practice and doing all the right things and still coming up short. But that's life sometimes. And we've also had the mindset that we are just thankful that we are playing and at least we are doing that as we try to get things going in the right direction.
"Whether we are 0-7 or 7-0, we are still building memories that sports are important for and we are building those memories everyday."
Down but not out:
It hasn't been the COVID bug that has gotten Grayslake North, it's been the good old-fashioned injury bug.
The Knights, after starting 5-0, have lost two straight.
"We are beat up right now," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "We've had some injury problems. Two of our unsung heroes have been out and you can tell. We've struggled."
Senior Nick Fish broke his foot recently in a game against Round Lake. He is likely out for the rest of the season.
And junior Joe Valera is out with an ankle injury. He could be back for the Knights' big rivalry game on Saturday against Grayslake Central, but that is uncertain.
"Nick gives us so much with defense and rebounding and leadership," Grunloh said. "And Joe is a point guard off the bench who had been playing so well lately that it was almost impossible to take him off the floor.
"We are definitely missing those guys."
Grunloh says in the three games before Fish and Valera went down with their injuries, his team was really clicking.
"I thought we were playing our best basketball," Grunloh said. "But the kids aren't down. They are happy to be playing and they are excited to play against Grayslake Central."
Still a big game:
Even in this strange season, the Grayslake Central at Grayslake North crosstown rivalry game on Saturday afternoon will get heart rates up in town.
"There is no conference championship this year, there is no regional this year, the Grayslake Central game will be all of that," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "For our kids, it's like that game is their season. This game is always circled on the calendar, but maybe more now."