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File / The Outlook Benjamin Russell has several youngsters, such as Gabe Benton, center, who will return this season, so Wildcat coach Jeremy Freeman is trying to use this summer to improve their basketball IQ.

Around Alabama, football seems to be the main focus during the summer. Fans are excited to see what their favorite teams are going to bring to the gridiron, and most coaches will say games are really won during the offseason.

However, football isn’t the only sport that lays its foundation during the hot months of the year. In fact, winter sports have restarted their workout regimes but it’s been a new normal this summer after the coronavirus pandemic and the guidelines handed down by the AHSAA.

“My hope is eventually it’ll open wide up and we can get going like normal,” Horseshoe Bend boys basketball coach Chad Kison said. “I understand the safety is the No. 1 priority, especially for these athletes, but just getting back into a normal routine would do a lot of people good. Summer is a big time for everybody to get things going and moving forward and when you don’t have that, that makes it tough on everybody.”

Many of the area’s basketball coaches are also on the football coaching staff, so they’re having to do a balancing act of working with their teams on the gridiron but also getting their other squads ready for action.

That’s going to continue to be a tough thing even after school starts. With the AHSAA allowing winter sports to host a tryout period after school begins or have an extra week of practice, coaches will have to decide which will be best for their teams.

“I’m still debating that because I have to balance it with football,” Reeltown girls basketball coach Will Solomon said. “If we do have a tryout, it won’t be a five-day deal. It’ll be maybe a one- or two-day tryout. We’re still trying to get that worked out. We would like to have a tryout rather than start early because of the way football and volleyball run into basketball anyway. One way or another, football and volleyball will come into play.”

For now, both Horseshoe Bend and Reeltown are hosting an all-encompassing workout for their boys and girls athletes, respectively. Solomon has also added a day when the girls basketball team gets into the gym to work on some basketball-specific stuff.

“With the varsity group, we’re doing a lot of individual drills like normal but we’re still able to creatively do some team drills following the guidelines,” Solomon said.

One big drawback of this summer is the lack of playdates. The AHSAA has disallowed any summer competition between schools, and that’s something that’s really affecting the basketball teams.

Benjamin Russell coach Jeremy Freeman puts a lot of stock into playdates and was especially looking forward to this summer as it was supposed to be his first full offseason with his boys basketball team. Although Freeman admittedly said he’s struggling with not having playdates, he’s also found some positives.

“You can’t beat gauging yourself against competition,” Freeman said. “(Playdates) are a great place to help define lineups and mismatches, find out what defenses work and don’t work. There’s so many things that you can get out of a playdate that you can’t substitute. But this summer is a little more personal; it’s more of a camp-oriented feel.

“We can get more time working on individual fundamental skills. It’s great to see the knowledge of the game grow, and that’s what we miss out a lot just playing. I’m going to have mostly youngsters, so here again, knowledge is key.”

With the lack of tryouts, many coaches are in a similar boat trying to figure out what pieces are going to fit where. Freeman has a lot of returning young talent but will have to piecemeal a varsity roster together, and Solomon is looking at replacing Taniya Haynes, who was a four-year starter at point guard.

“That’s the biggest drawback of not being able to compete this summer too,” Solomon said. “In years past, we could’ve gotten away without competition and just worked on our skills all summer. But this year, we really needed that competition to put girls in adverse situations, but we have an idea of who’s going to play point guard. We’ve got two or three we’re working on with their skillsets so when we can scrimmage and compete, they’ll be as good as they can be.”

As for Kison, he knows of some players who plan to return but has also heard some players aren’t coming back out for basketball so it’s been really tough without a tryout.

“It’s all a guessing game right now,” Kison said.

The good news is despite the guidelines, coaches agreed it’s actually been easier to follow than they expected. All have check-in stations to take temperatures and sanitize, and although coaches need to remind their players about socially distancing, Solomon said his girls have been really mindful of where they are in relation to others.

Freeman actually said he’s thriving in the new guidelines.

“Well, I’m kind of an order freak anyway,” Freeman said. “I’ve also got an elementary background in teaching, so it’s back to standing on the little dots. I like it like this really. I like order. When they come in, they’ve got their hands out and I’m masked up and gloved up ready for them, so that’s just the way it goes.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.