Updated: Jan 24, 2021
By Kevin McCaskill Jr.
The last time I was in a gym was March 11, 2020. Taconic beat Wayland.
Since that day, the Sports World (and of course the World in general) hasn’t been the same. The ‘COVID-19’ pandemic has made our normal ways of life very different. The game of basketball in Massachusetts looks close to the same, with some very notable differences.
I attended the Chicopee/Paulo Freire game at the South End Community Center. The first major difference: the general public was not allowed at the game. There were people in attendance though. Media was allowed access. Also, the MIAA has allowed family of the players to attend the game. There were about 20-25 non-basketball related people at the game.
The first quarter of the game was a struggle. Only 12 total points were scored; Paulo Freire was up 7-5 at the end of the 1st quarter. Both teams shots were all over the place, most were long or completely missed the basket. This is understandable, considering the circumstances. I’m sure 98% of the kids who are playing haven’t played an organized game since last March. There are probably less than a handful of the kids that played some type of “unsanctioned” AAU games.
Paulo Freire regrouped after a slow first quarter and kicked it into overdrive for the rest of the game. Paulo Freire started the 2nd with a 8-2 led by Junior Will Johnson. He hit two 3s and assisted on another basket.
The second major difference in the “COVID-19” era: all the players on the court and the referees had to wear masks. This new protocol was first reported by FP SPORTS.
Midway through the 2nd quarter a player from Paulo Freire got a warning about keeping his mask 😷 over his nose.
Paulo Freire didn’t strictly adhere to the mask rule until the third quarter. At the 4:12 mark in the 3rd, Paulo Freire was issued a technical foul by a referee for not complying with the masks ordinance and keeping the masks over the nose. There were a few games yesterday but I believe that is the first technical foul for not wearing a mask properly.
Paulo Freire coasted in this game after the 2nd quarter. Will Johnson had 25 points and hit four 3s. His teammate Chandler Wilson had 14 points.
Damian Ocasio had 17 points for Chicopee. He is the best returning player from last season. I spoke with a friend of mine who is a part of the Western Mass Basketball Community (WMBC). He informed me that “JP” McKrieth, 6’4” Guard that was with Chicopee last season, moved on to MacDuffie and the NEPSAC.
Other notable changes in how the game is played: no tip-off - home teams gets the ball first; referees have hand-held whistles; on free throws, players can only be in lane to rebound on the last free throw (only 4 players can be in lane); no mandated post-game handshakes.
After the game, I spoke briefly with Paulo Freire Head Coach Steven Rodriguez. He was excited and exasperated. He was animated and boisterous all night long on the sidelines. He could be heard yelling “Blitz, Blitz”, similar to a football defensive coordinator.
Rodriguez has been the HC of Paulo Freire for 5 years. He told me it “felt great” to be back on sideline and coaching a live game. He was also happy to experience this with his players. He was sincerely appreciative to the MIAA and the PVIAC for convening Winter Sports in Hampden County.
I have 2 takeaways from this game:
The MIAA/PVIAC are serious about keeping everyone safe.
Will Johnson and Chandler Wilson are very good players.
It felt great to be the gym again. Thank you to Paulo Freire Athletic Director Wesley Jackson.
Wear a mask if you will be around 10 or more people.
PS: Thank you Mr. Barney and the Barney Family; FP 🆙