How is coronavirus altering OSU athletes' lives off the court?

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Lindy Waters III (21) and Avery Anderson (0) on the bench during the Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma men's basketball game on February 22, 2020, at Gallagher Iba Arena.

Avery Anderson was in the middle of a grueling game against Iowa State at the Big 12 Tournament when he found out that fans weren’t going to be at the game the next day, due to concerns over COVID-19.

"I’m thinking in my head in the game, ‘Dang, this might be very serious,'" said Anderson, a freshman guard on the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team. “Because I didn’t even take it seriously. I’m one person that didn’t take the virus seriously.”

The game went on at the Sprint Center, and OSU pulled out a gritty win against a determined ISU team, continuing a late-season run of strong play that seemed to have them in line for an NIT bid. But as the Cowboys headed to the locker room to celebrate, news of something else spread quickly.

Rudy Gobert had coronavirus.

That was the first domino to fall, followed by a series of events that saw the sports world come to a screeching halt. The Big 12 Tournament was canceled. The season was canceled. And not just OSU’s, or just basketball; all NCAA events for the rest of the school year were scrapped. Professional sports have been called off or put on delay, too.

“It was a heartbreaking thing when coach B (Mike Boynton) told us that our season was going to come to an end,” Anderson said.

Also heartbreaking: the team has scattered, with students no longer on campus and classes all online.

The virus has separated teammates and friendships.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s hard,” Anderson said. “You’re used to seeing the dudes every day, being with ’em throughout the whole day, practice and you just miss being with the team… It’s just real hard not seeing your teammates every day.”

When teams spend such long periods of time together, it often creates an inseparable bond that goes beyond the sport. Athletes often view their team as a family. Now that time together is stripped away from them, but they’re still making it work.

Anderson said the whole basketball team — players and coaches — have one big video chat every day, which helps them keep in touch. 

That and they play a lot of Fortnite together. 

Who’s the best?

“Me of course,” Anderson said with a smile. “Nah, I’m not even going to lie with you, it’s me or Keylan (Boone). Lindy is pretty good, too.”

Even with these other activities placing a temporary fixture, OSU guard Thomas Dziagwa said the time apart is difficult, especially considering he lived with three other guys on the team.

It’s difficult, but Dziagwa called the situation unique. He said having FaceTime and other technologies so easily accessible in today’s world have helped the situation. Dziagwa said he hasn’t picked up any new hobbies, he just continues to get his workouts in and finishes his schoolwork. But it’s changed some aspects of his life.

“Having this downtime, I’m on my phone a lot more, which I don’t like,” Dziagwa said. “I probably need to find some time in a day and just put my phone up and meditate or do something different away from my phone because being attached to my phone, it’s not very characteristic of me.” 

Similar to the basketball team, OSU defensive back Jarrick Bernard said the football team has stayed in touch through FaceTime, Zoom and on the phone. And they’ve been playing a lot of video games. Call of Duty is the team’s game of choice.

“Seems like everybody’s been playing video games, making TikToks because that’s what the trend seems like now, and just hanging out, spending time with family since we don’t get to do much of that while we’re in school and playing football,” Bernard said. “It has been a time of relaxing and catching up on some stuff.”

The coronavirus has affected athletes everywhere — it’s sent many of them home, changed up their lives. But through the hardships, it’s provided a lesson.

“It makes you realize you can’t take anything for granted, because it could be taken away just like that,” Bernard said. “For example, this whole experience — we were practicing, spending time with our teammates and coaches, and teachers and everything, and all of a sudden, it got taken away from us. Now, we’re so far away, spread out. It just makes you realize that you can’t take anything for granted and (to) cherish moments you have each and every day with each other.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com