CHAMPAIGN — Any college basketball coach will tell you that the summer is where it all starts.
The buildup to a season really begins in June and July, as newcomers are mixed in with veterans. Opportunity is on the table for every player and every team. And the group you have bonds together and gets challenged together — setting the foundation for what’s ahead.
Illini head coach Brad Underwood spoke about the importance of summer workouts a few months ago.
“You create your toughness. You create a lot of chemistry in those weight rooms,” he said. “Freshmen and new guys are learning what’s that like and what it’s like to be really sore. Veterans build credibility and leadership because they help them get through it because they’ve been through it. Let alone the basketball stuff.”
For the past month, Illini basketball players have been able to participate in voluntary on-campus workouts. It’s a different kind of summer, due to circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Up to this point, Underwood and his assistant coaches have not been able to be present for these workouts.
That’s not ideal, but Underwood said things have been going well with his players and strength & conditioning coach Adam Fletcher.
“They’re in the weight room with Fletch. We’ve kind of taken the NBA protocol early,” Underwood said last week. “Now, we get one kid per basket with a manager. The managers are in masks and gloves and they’re rebounding. They have a shooting routine and a little ball-handling. It varies a little bit with guards and bigs. Bigs are working on some jump hooks and some post moves that we send them through video.”
“We can’t do anything as coaches. We’re not even in the gym. It’s up to them with the intensity in which they do that. Fletch has been really pleased with the progress they’re making in the weight room. The freshmen are getting acclimated. It’s very individualized right now.”
The good news — hoping all goes well — is that routines will take another step towards normalcy next week. Last month, the NCAA approved a plan to allow team-organized activities to begin on July 20. According to a report by Jeff Borzello and Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, Big Ten coaches voted to move forward with that plan.
“Big Ten basketball coaches voted today on whether to go ahead with NCAA’s July 20 date for a return to coach-led summer workouts, sources told me and @ESPNRittenberg,” Borzello tweeted. “They voted to proceed as planned, with coach-led workouts on Monday. Each school can adjust individually.”
All team-organized activities cannot exceed eight hours in a given week and coaches will be limited to four hours of on-court instruction per week. These activities can last up to eight weeks.
The ‘Bodies By Fletch’ program is still operational in small groups. Soon, Underwood and his coaches will be back on the floor with their guys. We’re still a long ways from a basketball season but that, at least, is a good sign.