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Timeout. How do players and coaches feel about a socially distanced bench?

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Team Huddle

Team huddles up around the free throw line during Oklahoma State Women's Basketball's victory over Southern on December 2, 2020.

Ja’Mee Asberry is happy she doesn’t feel like she is in timeout when she goes to the bench.

Because of COVID-19 protocols enforced by the Big 12 conference, the chairs that form team benches inside Gallagher-Iba Arena are spread out 6 feet from each other and extend in an L shape from the baseline to the scorer’s table.

Asberry, a junior point guard for the OSU Cowgirl basketball team, whose assigned chair for the season is along the baseline where the student section used to be, thinks she got lucky.

“I kind of like being by the student section,” Asberry said. “If I sat (closer to half court) under the (area where the seats of the 200 section is above you), I feel like I’m in timeout and the coaches are watching me the whole time.”

Although the new seat may offer Asberry a new view of the court and a chance to stretch her legs, she doesn’t think a socially distanced bench is good for her team.

“It kind of keeps us far apart and, who knows, some people might wander off cause they’re separated from everybody, and they’re not as locked in as last year when everybody was sitting together,” Asberry said.

A practical thing Asberry mentioned about the spread-out bench is that it is harder for the players on the court to hear the players on the bench loudly counting down as the shot clock dwindles away.

OSU freshman guard Lexy Keys also dislikes the current setup.

“You already have to create so much energy in the gym, and it’s hard whenever you’re that far away from your teammates already,” Keys said. “Your bench really helps you communicate on defense especially. They echo the coach the whole time so it’s hard to hear them when they’re almost in the stands.”

The socially distanced bench doesn’t find any more friends on the Cowgirl basketball coaching staff. Coach Jim Littell couldn’t see a single advantage the bench provides his team this year.

The physical act of substituting players into the game is not providing challenges for the coaching staff. As Keys explained, when a coach calls for a player sitting far away to enter the game, the player’s name will be repeated and echoed by everyone until the player gets the message.

The part about a socially distanced bench that is challenging Littell is what happens when a player checks out of the game.

“What makes it tough, especially for a young team, is when (the players) come off the floor you can’t have them sitting right beside you to coach them,” Littell said.

He said sometimes players exit the game to get a rest, while other times it’s because he sees something they are doing that needs to be fixed.

“It’s difficult correcting a player when they’re sitting 30 feet away from you,” Littell said.

Littell has done really the only thing he can do to coach up his players on the sideline: talk to them as they are coming out of the game.

He will have a few seconds to pull them aside as they are walking to their chair to tell them what they did right, what they did wrong or if they are just subbing out to get a rest. He is making the most of all that the Big 12 allows.

“Nothing about this is normal right now, so we’ve got to adjust,” Littell said.

sports.ed@ocolly.com