SCHENECTADY — Monday and Wednesday were real good days for members of the Schenectady High School boys’ basketball team.
Thursday was even better.
“We’re so happy to be on the court together,” Patriots senior Jeremiah Davis said during a break from his team’s first practice of this abbreviated winter season. “It was a crazy experience to have something taken from you so quick. To get an opportunity to do it again, it’s such a relief.”
The Patriots got the OK to commence with full-contact practice Wednesday when the Schenectady school board approved “high” risk winter sports that include basketball. That go-ahead came after Schenectady County’s seven-day average of the coronavirus positivity rate reached 4% Monday, which was the stat county schools had been waiting for.
“We’re getting back to normalcy,” Schenectady head coach John Miller said as his cast ran, took shots and drilled at Mont Pleasant Middle School. “We’re getting back to a routine and getting back together, and we’re grateful for it.
“There’s no way I thought when we got off the court [last season] that it would be 11 months until we got together again.”
“This feels amazing after not being on the court and not doing anything for so long,” Davis said.
Schenectady will be playing the first game of a shortened season a week from Friday at Troy, and the following day, the Patriots will host Columbia.
“In a normal season, you ease in,” said Miller. “This is full tilt. Here we go. We’re off and running.”
Miller said he is not certain just what the season will entail, knowing the Albany County schools may or may not be cleared to play, and that coronavirus cases could arise at any time among the schools that are moving forward with practices and games.
“I told them if it’s nine games and a tournament, we’re going to play hard, and we’re going to play to win,” Miller said. “If it’s five games, we’ll take it, and we’re going to play the same way.”
“What I’m looking forward to is playing great with the boys,” Schenectady senior Elijah Johnsen said. “Leave it all on the floor. We want to go out with a bang. If we stay focused, we can be really good.”
Johnsen wasn’t so sure Schenectady would have a chance to do that.
“It’s my senior year,” Johnsen said. “What was going through my mind was no basketball. The pandemic is going on. It’s snowing and I can’t go to the park. I’m glad we’re back together. I’m glad we’re getting to play at all. Ten games is better than none.”
With Schenectady students studying virtually and the high school off limits even for non-contact workouts and weight lifting, Miller, through social media and Zoom chats, constantly reminded his players to stay sharp the best they could just in case good news came their way.
“He told us it was our responsibility to keep in shape,” Davis said. “He encouraged us and said it’s going to happen. Stay ready to get on the court.”
Schenectady will play with a handful of veterans back from an 11-9 varsity team and some newcomers who helped the junior varsity go 17-3 last season.
“We do have a few seniors so we’ve got older leadership, but the majority is juniors and sophomores,” Miller said. “Obviously there are going to be some bumps and learning on the fly, but sometimes that’s the best way to learn.”
Miller said his lettermen will be asked to aid in that transition from lower-level ball to the varsity ranks.
“The player we lost, that was his vision,” Miller said of 2020 graduate Naylon Carrington, a popular and outgoing Patriot who died in an auto accident in October. “The message here if you’re older is, ‘Help the younger guys take the next step.’ That was Naylon’s vision, and he did it to the best of his ability.”
Carrington’s No. 2 jersey will be draped over a chair when Schenectady plays at Troy to begin its campaign.
“As seniors, we’ve got to step up,” Johnsen said. “Show them the right way. Make sure that they don’t create bad habits. Make sure they keep their heads on straight. If you get a spot, keep working to maintain that spot and don’t fool around.”
There wasn’t much of that Thursday.
“They’re invested,” Miller said. “They were here early and they want to leave late.”