LOUDONVILLE — He followed the protocols, wore his mask and was excitedly counting down the days until the Siena College men’s basketball team could play the first game of its 2020-21 season.
So the news hit Jalen Pickett hard, both because of its timing and contents.
“I was definitely surprised when I got the call,” Pickett said Friday. “I assumed I was fine. I was really shocked.”
Pickett, the reigning MAAC Player of the Year, confirmed in an interview with The Daily Gazette that he was one of the Siena program’s two “Tier 1” individuals to test positive for the novel coronavirus prior to its two-week pause of in-person activities that closed Friday. The Saints were able to conduct in-person activities Friday, with team members participating in skill work and lifting as they started the process of working back toward game shape.
Pickett found out he had tested positive on Nov. 12, a night before Siena announced it had paused all in-person team activities. He said he passed all the required medical tests earlier this week needed for him to start the process of being able to take part in physical activity.
Prior to that, Pickett said he generally felt OK throughout his 10-day isolation period. At some point, though, the junior guard noticed he’d lost his sense of smell — a symptom of COVID-19 — and he hasn’t yet regained it.
“But, other than that, I was fine,” Pickett said. “I do miss it so much. That’s definitely something you take for granted.”
Pickett chuckled as he discussed losing his sense of smell. He’d realized that had happened one day while eating a hot meal. The 21-year-old from Rochester used a much more serious tone when he assessed his overall bout with COVID-19.
“I am lucky,” Pickett said.
In all, more than 12,700,000 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and more than 250,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in the United States, according to data available through Thanksgiving night from The COVID Tracking Project.
Pickett wasn’t the first local athlete to test positive, and he’s unlikely to be the last as the Capital Region continues its battle with the novel coronavirus.
“It can happen anywhere, anytime — to anybody,” Pickett said.
That includes a star basketball player whose Siena men’s basketball team expects to play its way into this season’s NCAA tournament. Within the area’s Division I basketball scene, both Siena programs have needed to pause in-person activities, and the women’s team’s pause continues into next week. Meanwhile, both UAlbany basketball programs resumed practicing Wednesday following their athletic department’s third halting of in-person activities because of pandemic-related issues.
All four programs needed to cancel or postpone their opening games for a season that previously had its start date moved back 15 days. Not being able to play as scheduled, especially after an offseason that started abruptly in March with the pandemic-related cancellation of the in-progress MAAC tournament, left Pickett hurting.
“I was devastated, you know?” Pickett said. “I wanted to be able to play basketball, and I didn’t want anyone on our team to experience COVID, to have it.”
Instead, Pickett found himself in isolation, finishing up his fall semester’s academic work and taking part in virtual team meetings. The extra free time he had, he used to catch up on the latest World Wrestling Entertainment developments and some other TV shows.
“I usually don’t have time to watch,” said Pickett, who also caught some college basketball games on TV when the Division I season started Wednesday.
There, too, were all the extra chats with mom Gwendolyn, who Pickett said upped her usual one or two phone calls per day to six or seven to make sure her son was doing OK.
“My mom’s a worrywart, anyway, even whenever I get a regular cold,” Pickett said.
While Siena’s first scheduled game at this point is its Dec. 11 MAAC opener at Fairfield, Saints head coach Carmen Maciariello said Wednesday that he is still trying to schedule a non-conference game — or games, if possible — in early December.
The unexpected time away from the court, Pickett said, only made him more eager to play.
“I can’t wait to get back out there,” Pickett said.