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  • Members of the Harrisburg boys' basketball team run through dribbling drills during an Open Gym Monday inside Davenport Gymnasium. Monday was the official first day of practice in the state of Illinois.

    Members of the Harrisburg boys' basketball team run through dribbling drills during an Open Gym Monday inside Davenport Gymnasium. Monday was the official first day of practice in the state of Illinois.
    SPYDER DANN | mdann@dailyregister.com

 
By Spyder Dann mdann@dailyregister.com
updated: 11/18/2020 9:12 AM

An unusual starting date surrounded by unusual circumstances, but yet on Monday, sneakers squeaked and shots were swished as basketball players -- in at least three towns -- took the court on what was the first day of basketball practice in Illinois.
Social distancing was displayed while masks were worn at Harrisburg, Marion and Pinckneyville.
A bottle of sanitizer hung off the ball rack at Marion as all precautions were made during this time of the coronavirus.
Still, for Harrisburg's Randy Smithpeters, Monday's Open Gym was about normalcy in a time when its anything but.
"We still have hopes for some kind of future," Smithpeters said. "We're not sure what it will be, but part of what we did today was just give the guys something to enjoy, keep them occupied for an hour and it was just nice to hear everyone laugh and kid around. It's hard to find time to do that anymore."
In May, smack bad in the midst of COVID-19, Marion hired Casey Rose. The first year head coach hasn't had a rookie approach to his inaugural season, instead using veteran advice as he navigates rough waters.
"We've been trying to look at the positives with a new coaching staff and a new group of players. The one thing we've talked about is how games can be like rollercoasters, well, we're going through that rollercoaster right now. The ups and downs, the emotions of if we will have a season, the announcements from the IHSA and then being completely different a few days later. All of these things are making us better."
Rose says the situation is bitter sweet, but for him, he has "a great group of girls that have bought in,"
"We only worry about what we can control," Rose says. "We're keeping it nice and simple and rolling with it. We know we can get shots up, we know we can work on ball handling, we know we can get in the weight room. Beyond that, we don't worry about much."
A similar approach is taking place in Perry County, where Pinckneyville boys' basketball coach Bob Waggoner is using the equation E+R=O - or - Event plus Reaction equals Outcome.
"What's going on right now and how we respond to it will define how we get through all of this," Waggoner explained. "We can work on skill, shooting, team bounding and ability to communicate. These are all positive things. It's easy to focus on what we can't control. If our guys weren't in the gym, what would they be doing? Some might chose to get a job and some might chose to just do nothing at all. At least, with basketball, we can work and work together.
"Selfishly, this is beneficial for me. It helps my mindset. In 27 years, the only thing I have known is being in a gym in November and getting better. It's also more about basketball. It's about these men and the ability to see them grow and develop. I like to see these guys improve, not just as basketball players, but as men."
Coming Thursday, The Illinois High School Association will meet -- again -- to determine the next step for the winter sports and basketball season. Currently, Illinois is in Level 1 mitigations from IDPH All Sports Policy until Thursday, where no contact could be had between players.
Which meant Monday's practices consisted of ball handling drills and shooting exercises.
When Smithpeters was asked to look into his crystal ball, the outlook wasn't very convincing.
"I don't see the IHSA coming out and saying they are going to stay on schedule and I also don't know what our school will say, but I will say this, we had a conversation with our guys about Thursday and the meeting and asked them if they even wanted to get together Tuesday and Wednesday and all of them wanted to. That's encouraging."

Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.