HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
A record 158 Canadians have been named to the rosters of NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball teams for the delayed/shortened 2020-21 season. That eye-popping total includes four Ottawa players, but only two will see action.
Freshman Louth-Mohamed Coulibaly, a product of Ottawa’s Canada Topflight Academy, will play as a 6’8″ forward for College of the Holy Cross Crusaders, while 6’7″ senior forward/guard Abdul Mohamed of Ottawa will compete for Montana State University.
Noah Kirkwood of Kanata will miss his junior year at Harvard University as the Ivy League announced Thursday the cancellation of its winter sports programs, including men’s basketball, which had its season originally postponed in the summer.
Blame the coronavirus pandemic and the record-high number of positive cases in the United States. The Ivy League presidents made the health and safety of its student/athletes their main priority and shut down all winter sports.
Canada Topflight Academy alumnus J.D. Muila, a 6-8 junior F, will miss the 2020-21 season, his first with the Southern Illinois University Salukis, after having successful knee surgery Nov. 3 to repair a torn meniscus.
The coronavirus became part of Kirkwood’s life in mid-March, when the Ivy League cancelled its men’s basketball tournament, including Harvard’s semi-final game. It also introduced him to online learning in his second year studying economics and sociology.
“I’m now at home training, trying to find a gym and doing online school,” Kirkwood said in a phone interview. “It was difficult at first. But I put my faith and trust knowing that what they (Harvard administrators) have done is the best for the students.”
A former Ashbury College student/athlete, Kirkwood has settled into an academic routine, but struggles to find the same for his basketball training. He’ll move from room to room to take his various classes, take breaks and go for walks.
“I’m using this opportunity to make the most of it. I’m also able to spend more time with my parents and little brother,” added Kirkwood, the 2019 Ivy League rookie of the year and an All-Ivy League first team all-star in 2020.
Trying to find available gym time to practise his skills has been a difficult defence to solve for the 6’7″ guard. On Sundays, he goes to a cross-fit training location which has basketball hoops to keep his skills sharp, physically distancing, of course.
He contacted Carleton University and the University of Ottawa coaches and asked about training with them. But he was denied because it didn’t meet with the strict health and safety protocols of the universities brought about by the pandemic.
“Lately, it has been nice weather outside and usually I have been working on ball handling skills at home,” Kirkwood added. “One or two times I’ve had gym time. But I’m making due with what I have.”
During his time at home, Kirkwood has been able to keep in contact with the Harvard coaching staff and his teammates through Zoom video meetings. “Our coaching staff has been doing a great job organizing Zoom calls once or twice a month.
“We’ve had collective (player) group chats, but it’s definitely not the same as in-person.”
While American universities in other NCAA Division 1 conferences prepare to start their seasons in about six weeks, Kirkwood is focused on the present.
“I wouldn’t say jealous is the right word. We all want to play,” said Kirkwood, who is guided by and good with the Ivy League decision to cancel the season. “I will use this time to better my skills. I take it day by day.”
The Ivy League also announced the students will not lose a year of athletic eligibility as a result of the pandemic.
Louth-Mohamed Coulibaly and the Holy Cross Crusaders are scheduled to play 16 regular-season games in the Patriot League from Jan. 2 to Feb. 21. There would be no fans for home games. The championship tournament would be March 6-14.
The Crusaders will play Boston University six times, Army West Point four, Colgate University four and Lehigh University twice to reduce travel and overnight stays, and eliminate flying. All games will be held on Saturdays and Sundays.
After two years at the University of North Texas, Abdul Mohamed will debut with Montana State and hopes to play a 20-game schedule in the Big Sky Conference (Dec. 31 to March 6) spanning five states.
J.D. Muila will miss the entire Southern Illinois season because of knee surgery and is expected to have 4 to 6 months of rehabilitation. He spent the past 2 years at Indian Hills College and was ranked the 24th junior college recruit.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 47 years. The Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree “retired” from the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but has continued to write his High Achievers column for the Citizen/Sun.
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When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at SportsOttawa.com.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.