Wright State basketball: In uncertain season, Raiders cherishing every minute on the floor

Wright State head coach Scott Nagy, center, watches the action against Green Bay as center Loudon Love waits to reenter during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED
Wright State head coach Scott Nagy, center, watches the action against Green Bay as center Loudon Love waits to reenter during a men's basketball game at the Nutter Center in Fairborn Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. E.L. Hubbard/CONTRIBUTED

FAIRBORN -- When Loudon Love’s family visited him for a couple of days around Christmas, it was the first time he had seen them since August.

That’s not unusual. College basketball players form tight bonds with their teammates and coaches in part because quality time with their loved ones is so scarce.

“I always thought winter sports were the hardest,” said Love, a fifth-year senior for Wright State. “You miss Thanksgiving break. You don’t get that time off when school is out. You might get Christmas off for a day or two here and there. But you’re not getting spring break typically, either.

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“Odds are this is my last year playing here” — the NCAA isn’t counting 2020-21 toward an athlete’s eligiblity, meaning he has the option of returning next season — “and the uncertainty every day makes you (cherish) the days, even when you don’t have a great practice.”

Along with the usual infringements on their social lives from hoops, COVID-19 has required significantly more sacrifice from players. They may be following all the protocols to avoid testing positive, yet the virus still seems to find ways to break out in programs, creating havoc with schedules.

The Raiders had to drop out of a season-opening four-team event at Illinois. They’ve managed to play each of their last nine games, but other Horizon League teams haven’t fared so well.

IUPUI and Robert Morris have played just twice this season.

“You always hear it growing up: ‘This might be your last game or your last day practicing.’ But it’s more evident now than ever and more clearly cut that it might be,” Love said.

“It just means more (to play), especially with how much work everyone has to put in — how much time you’ve got to dedicate going to get tested, coming back, all those things. It just means a lot more to everyone, and I’m sure that’s true across all collegiate sports groups.”

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The Horizon League is certainly doing what it can to help teams have a relatively full season, adjusting schedules where necessary.

Robert Morris had to cancel its two games at Cleveland State on Dec. 19-20 because of the virus, and IUPUI did the same with Purdue Fort Wayne. But the league stepped in and pitted CSU against Fort Wayne for two games that weekend — even though those two are scheduled to play again Feb. 19-20.

Northern Kentucky had to back out of its Dec. 26-27 trip to Oakland, and IUPUI cancelled its series with Detroit Mercy. But the league officials called another midweek audible and had Oakland face Detroit twice.

Those teams meet again Jan. 22-23.

The conference also is getting creative with women’s teams. Cleveland State and Purdue Fort Wayne played last weekend after their original opponents had to pull out because of COVID.

“There’s no reason two teams that had games cancelled on them, and they’re just sitting there, can’t play each other — even if they play each other a lot. It’s still better that the kids get to play than not play,” Wright State coach Scott Nagy said.

The potentially dicey part about those arrangements for the men is that Oakland now will play four road games against Detroit, while Cleveland State will play four times on Purdue Fort Wayne’s home court.

Without fans, road trips aren’t quite as daunting this year, though traveling still takes a toll.

The CSU and Fort Wayne women’s teams will face each other twice at home and twice on the road.

For Nagy, if his team finds itself idle for a weekend, he’d gladly embrace games against a makeshift opponent — even if that means piling into a charter bus.

“It’s not as hard to win on the road right now,” he said. “There’s no fans. It’s a little easier to get your players to focus than when you’re at home. I would be happy to play all of them on the road. It wouldn’t bother me one bit.”

He added: “Whatever we have to do to get games, let’s do. The magic number is to get to 13, so you can play in the NCAA.”

He also pointed out how playing away from home could come in handy at league tourney time. It’s one of the tiebreakers in the final standings, giving the higher seed to the team that has played on the road more.

“I say put all our games on the road if they’re going to count more,” he said.

Nagy understands how the season has put an extra burden on his players. And while he’s sympathetic, he also won’t tolerate self-pity.

“There are some sacrifices — they don’t get to go home, they don’t get to see their families — but there are positives because they get to play,” he said.

“There are some people who aren’t getting to do what they want to do — aren’t getting paid (at a job) they want to do. Our guys are at least getting to play. It’s not ideal. We’d like to play in front of fans. We’d like everything to be normal and it’s not. But they’re still getting to play.

“We just have to be able to look at the things we have and not the things we don’t have. We talk about that a lot. That’s how someone gets down — their focus becomes what they don’t have vs. what they have. We’re trying to make sure everybody has a positive mental attitude and is thankful.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Youngstown State at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN2, 106.5

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