Despite what NBA 2K games might suggest, basketball is not a virtual sport, but it certainly feels that way for the newcomers to Penn men’s basketball this year.
The brand new freshmen and transfers on the team are unable to live on-campus this fall, so they’ve been stuck playing basketball, training in the gym, and getting acclimated to their new team alone at home. Uncertainty remains over whether they’ll even be playing a season this year after the Ivy League canceled all athletics events until at least Jan. 1. Despite this, the team is still preparing as it would in a normal year, just under very different circumstances.
Many of the upperclassmen on the team already had off-campus housing set up for this year in Philadelphia, so they are able to meet up and work out together. Freshman guards Matteus Case and Clark Slajchert are back home in Toronto and Los Angeles, respectively, adjusting to a new team and to virtual college life.
“It’s not really something I expected, adjusting to college this way,” Case said. “I thought I’d be adjusting to it by being on campus, being with the team.”
Case’s situation is unique, as he was a late commit to Penn and never even visited campus. He had planned a visit for last spring, but it was canceled due to the pandemic. Getting to know all of his new coaches and teammates virtually has been a challenge, and he is itching to get on campus as soon as possible to meet everyone in person.
Weekly newcomer meetings held via Zoom have been helpful for Case and the rest of his class to get to know the coaches and each other better. During these meetings, the group doesn’t actually talk about basketball. The coaches use this time to check in on how the freshmen are doing mentally, how their classes are going, and how life is back home.
On the basketball side, however, learning a new system virtually has been especially challenging for the first-year players. The lack of an in-person, on-court component is something new for all the athletes on the team, but at least the upperclassmen are already familiar with how the Quakers run their offense and defense.
“[Learning the system] has probably been the biggest adjustment because they put plays up on the whiteboard on the Zoom calls, and you see the play but normally they tell you the play and you go out and you do it,” Case said.
Out on the West Coast, Slajchert has been able to find a weight room to train in and a gym for on-court work. To learn Penn’s system, however, he has been forced to come up with new strategies.
“Penn is not an easy offense to learn,” Slajchert said. “We’re even watching film from [past] practices so I can kind of envision myself doing what I would be doing if I was actually there.”
Case and Slajchert both credit the coaches for being extremely innovative, helpful, and responsive in bringing the newcomers along. Despite the virtual environment, they both feel prepared if the Ivy League does indeed play basketball again this year.