LONDON -- Basketball coaches across the Tri-County have had to adapt to the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their respective programs.
North Laurel Lady Jaguar Basketball Coach Eddie Mahan's Lady Jaguars are one of those teams.
They are coming off a 28-5 campaign that saw North Laurel win another 49th District title while earning a third straight trip to the 13th Region championship game.
The Lady Jaguars will more than likely enter the 2020-21 season as the team to beat in the 13th Region but a later start to any type of workouts, combined with no summer basketball games being played, could play a role in how things pan out in the long run for Mahan's young but talented squad.
"I know expectations are high for our program but we may very well have the youngest team in the region," Mahan said. "Missing summer ball for many years would not have been as big of an issue as it is this year. The valuable experience these kids were going to be able to get in a much less pressure-filled environment was going to be very important for this year's team.
"With the youth of our team, and losing two important players like Isabel Gray and Gracie Jervis, we have a lot of questions about our lineups and roster for this upcoming season," he added. "I typically answer many questions about our team during summer ball and it gives me a clearer picture for the season and now we will be having to figure those things out on the go this year. It may very well change how smooth the start of our season will be."
With his team just recently being allowed to work out, Mahan admitted it's great for everyone involved.
"Just being able to be together and focus on improving is important," he said. "It had to be a tough decision to make eliminating this year's dead period but I believe the KHSAA made the right one after our kids have been stuck at home for over three months. I just hope all coaches are truly understanding with kids who have plans during this time. Family time and vacations are vital to kids as well."
The COVID-19 pandemic also forced high school basketball coaches to either cancel or postpone their youth camps. The pandemic could also play a role in the basketball program's ability to fundraise compared to past years.
"I will always figure out a way to fund the things we need, so missing camp isn't about the money we missed out on," Mahan said. "Youth camp, after some down years previously, was huge last year and we heard so many positive things that came out of it. Youth camps help improve your future players' skill level while also exciting them about the sport and our program. To me, it is a huge building block to our program that we missed out on. I hope to have some minicamps in the fall on Saturdays to help make up for the missed experience this summer.
"As far as the fundraising aspect, I worry more about the small businesses in our community," he added. "They have always been a huge part of the fundraising and support for our program. I know some of them will take a while to recover and some may never recover. During that time, it will make fundraising much more difficult."
But the big key for Mahan currently is to be able to interact with his players again.
"I think sometimes because of the youth of our players and because as a coach I'm always critiquing them, they sometimes don't realize how important they are to me.," he said. "I have missed my basketball family immensely. The first two weeks was a welcomed time to recoup from a long season but since then I have longed to be back into the gym with these great young ladies."
Mahan also mentioned he thinkS the one thing that could emerge from the pandemic is a bigger gap between dedicated players and teams compared to the ones who just do what is required.
"Every year your dedicated kids find ways to work out more but your average kids still had spring workouts and summer ball to keep them competitive," he said. "With COVID-19 taking away the ability to do those things you will see that gap grow both in individuals and teams."
Mahan also feels the pandemic has made things tougher on student-athletes that hope to play at the college level.
"For the kids who hope to play in college this has been a hard experience," He said. "There is no secret to getting a scholarship to play in college. You have to be good enough and you have to be seen. COVID-19 has made it harder to do both this offseason. With no D1 in-person recruiting at all this spring or summer, it will be even harder to be seen.
"Most college coaches do not recruit you off of travel alone it has always been the easiest way to see the most kids," Mahan added. "High school coaches have to make sure we help bridge that gap even more. I know for us we have sent more films out already for our kids than ever before. The correspondence with college coaches has been that much more important and it will probably be a big part of making up for lost recruiting time for our kids. I think COVID-19 has made this a much bigger part of our job now and with many college program's budget cuts it will probably be for the next few years."
Editor's note: Today's story is a part of a series of stories the staff of the Sentinel-Echo and Times-Tribune sports departments will be running for the next few weeks from head coaches of boys and girls basketball programs in the Tri-County.