Although COVID-19 has shut down Ivy League basketball, a majority of the basketball world is pressing on. Former Penn basketball players Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Darien Nelson-Henry, too, are continuing play in their respective professional basketball leagues.
Last season, Jackson-Cartwright — who graduated Penn in 2014 and currently plays for Luxembourg Total League’s Basket Esch — averaged a little under 20.5 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.2 steals per game on 42.9% shooting. Through the first five games of this season, Jackson-Cartwright has carried over his success from last season. He’s currently averaging 31.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 2.6 steals per game on 51.5% shooting from the field.
Class of 2016 alumnus Darien Nelson-Henry — who plays for the British Basketball League’s (BBL) Leicester Riders — has found similar success in his overseas basketball career. In his 11 games in the BBL thus far, the former Quaker has averaged 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds on 52.8% shooting from the field.
Jackson-Cartwright and Nelson-Henry recently checked in with the Daily Pennsylvanian about their recent lifestyle adjustments due to the pandemic.
Can you describe your journey from Penn to where you are now?
Miles Jackson-Cartwright: After I graduated I went straight to Europe and continued my playing career. My first place was in the Netherlands, and then I played two seasons in Germany. I've been in Luxembourg playing for the last three seasons so with the time difference it's been tough to stay as connected to Penn as I would like to, but I’ve been over here playing and working since I graduated in 2014.
Darien Nelson-Henry: After graduating from Penn in 2016, my rookie season started off in Poland the following September for a team called KK Siarka Tarnobrzeg. I lasted about half the season there, but left for a variety of reasons. Then, I was picked up by an Austrian club called UBSC Graz. I played one season there then moved to another team in Austria, Kapfenberg Bulls — where we won the Cup and Championship in the same season.
Following that season, I had a brief three month stint in Bosnia playing for a team called OKK Sloboda Tuzla, which did not work out. This led me to join the [BBL’s] Riders in October of 2019. After last season ended abruptly in March, I decided to stay in England over the summer which allowed me to solidify a two-year deal, accompanied by the opportunity to study at Loughborough University for a masters in International Business.
What has your COVID-19 basketball season been like so far?
Jackson-Cartwright: For us, our league took a break once COVID really started going crazy in November and now we’re in an extended pre-season as we get ready for our restart at the end of February. [The coronavirus situation] got to the point where the league wasn't comfortable going forward, but also the players just didn't feel comfortable because players were getting sick left and right.
Nelson-Henry: The basketball situation during COVID-19 is definitely a new experience for all of us, but it took very little time to get used to the new measures we have to follow. Simple things like temperatures before we enter the gym, COVID-19 tests on Tuesdays before we return to practice, disinfecting our areas and equipment after using it, and plenty more. It all becomes kind of second nature, just like the mask-wearing and hand washing that we've all become accustomed to.
What’s the hardest part about playing basketball during COVID-19 for you?
Jackson-Cartwright: It's difficult because you're going in every day not knowing what's going to happen, especially with your teammates or yourself, about testing positive or negative, and that really can affect the game-planning and continuing in the season. It's difficult navigating being a professional athlete in a pandemic, but you’re trying to keep it as normal as possible.
Nelson-Henry: The hardest part about playing during a COVID season is the absence of fans. They are an integral part of the game, they are missed, and basketball is not the same without that interaction.
Despite COVID, how are you feeling about this season?
Jackson-Cartwright: We’ve actually played about thirteen games because we started in September and it was fairly normal. We were playing with fans but it wasn't filled to capacity — the quality of the game were still very high.”
Nelson-Henry: I am feeling very hopeful for this season, both personally and team-wise. We have a great squad with talent and chemistry, so I believe there is a good chance for us to win some hardware this season. In terms of mindset, COVID and everything that comes along with it forces you to be very adaptable. So, with that said, I think the team who handles adversity the best and can adjust on the fly will have the most success.