SCIOTO COUNTY — It’s true that the tournaments were fewer, the restrictions greater, the entire season seeming stranger.
Still, throughout June and July and into August for likely its final weekend tournament, the Buckeye Storm AAU basketball team took the summer indeed by storm.
That’s because Buckeye Storm, featuring seven Scioto County high school seniors-to-be, was able to compete in three major “regional” tournaments —with another set for this weekend in Indianapolis at the Indiana Pacers’ primary practice facility.
The Buckeye Storm consists of only upcoming seniors —as they are represented in part by Matthew Miller, Carter McCorkle and Gage Adkins of Wheelersburg; Kyle Sexton, Tanner Voiers and Chase Clark of New Boston; and Dylan Ellis of Valley.
Eric Voiers is the squad’s head coach.
Also included is Dawson Mills of Peebles, as the club has competed in both Columbus and Cincinnati — while traveling to Fort Wayne, Ind. for its largest tournament to date.
Another tournament, in Pittsburgh, was previously cancelled due to the coronavirus threat.
While most of this core group has played together since seventh grade, including Miller and Sexton, McCorkle —formerly a member of Arctic Rush —joined Buckeye Storm for this summer.
And, what an unusual summer it has been — thanks to the coronavirus continuing to grip not only Ohio, but the entire United States.
Basketball, anywhere at any level, hasn’t been exempt either.
There are several safety protocols which must be followed —from the time of arrival at the facility to even after games are over.
“It’s been so weird. We’ve had these big tournaments, but they make people wait outside, everybody has to wear masks, a limited amount of people can come in. We get three-minute warm-ups. They have to stay on schedule, and then they have to clean all the facilities,” said Sexton. “At the end of the games, we can’t shake hands. Elbows only. It’s just been so weird. All these kids have face masks on. Everybody has to stay away from each other. It’s just different. Crazy to see. This year has just been insane. All there is to it.”
Still, Sexton —along with Miller and McCorkle —are thankful for just the opportunity to be playing this summer.
With the Centers For Disease Control easing federal — and even statewide — restrictions on mass gatherings near the Memorial Day holiday, that opened the door for AAU tournaments to take place.
The six-foot, five-inch and good story-teller Sexton — the reigning Division IV Southeast District Player of the Year and first-team all-Ohioan as bestowed by the Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association — said “AAU couldn’t end this way”.
For his high school career, he has already scored 1,151 points and grabbed 962 rebounds.
“After we (New Boston) lost at the Convo (Ohio University Convocation Center in Division IV district semifinals), I was so excited to get right back out there and play again. Then everything happened with the coronavirus. I was like ‘dang it.’ I was heart-broken. I didn’t think I was going to get the chance to play a basketball game again until basketball season,” said Sexton. “It was going to suck if we had to end it (AAU careers) like that.”
Fortunately, it didn’t.
There are no Ohio High School Athletic Association restrictions on team play this summer, as the traditional 10-day coaching rule was waived — with no dead period set for this August.
The ongoing pandemic was the main factor in the OHSAA’s decision to suspend the 50-percent team limit rule for the summer of 2020 for non-school teams in the sports of basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball — beginning June 1 through July 31, according to OHSAA bylaw 7.3.1 b.
Miller said most of the band got back together for one last tour, and remarked highly of the competition and individual talent at the tournaments.
Specifically, the one in Fort Wayne.
“We found out we could play, so we got most of that team back together. It was nice to be able to play basketball again,” said Miller. “There was a lot of college exposure at that tournament, but it was good to go there. There was a lot of good competition there. Guys going to Ohio State or Division-I schools are who you play against. But you see how you match up against them. There’s a lot of different teams and a lot of different brackets. Gold, silver, bronze, platinum. Teams from all over.”
And, all of the teams followed the same basic timelines.
Sexton, who said he has been in contact with four or five college programs, said teams —even in Fort Wayne’s large gymnasium —had to wait outside the facility for up until 15 minutes prior to their games.
Once inside — and before tipoffs — they only had enough time to change shoes, make sure uniforms were good to go, and have a three-minute warmup period.
Miller mentioned that the gymnasiums were completely cleared, cleaned and sanitized between sessions — and that any and all spectators had to wear masks.
For players, the only time they didn’t wear masks was when they were actually in the game — live and on the court.
But as McCorkle said — with the possibility of his senior season getting delayed, shortened or even altogether canceled —playing AAU this summer was “almost like a relief”.
“You just get to go out there and play as far as you want. You don’t know for sure if you’re going to have a season or not, so you just go full out on whatever you do,” he said. “AAU is perfect for that, because whatever tournament you are at and whatever exposure you get, it’s all or nothing.”
Miller said getting to play AAU and having fun doing it benefited bonding aspects.
“Playing basketball this summer has allowed us to get our minds away from everything that’s been going on right now,” he said.
Indeed, amid the coronavirus cloud, there was the Buckeye Storm — a much-needed silver lining of several Scioto County seniors-to-be playing AAU basketball.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I was so happy to be able to play this summer. I was so grateful they let us play. This is our last year of being able to play AAU together. Those guys are like my brothers. We’ve played together since the seventh grade. I love playing with those guys,” said Sexton. “All the schools in the (Scioto) county are rivals against each other, but once we started playing AAU together, we all became friends. Everybody wants to win, we just go out there and play, and I love the friendships I’ve built with those guys.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved