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The New Normal

Sep 14, 2020

BOULDER – The year 2020 has been anything but normal and that still might be an understatement. But as the year grows older, communities continue to absorb the abnormal and make it into today's normal. 

The new normal... 

...and the Colorado women's basketball team has been no exception. 

The last time fans saw the team was walking off the court at the Mandalay Bay Events Centers on March 5. Under normal circumstances, the Buffaloes were prepping for an almost certain WNIT bid, only to have their shot at postseason play ripped away. Soon after, the university moved all classes to online learning, sending everyone home from Boulder. 

Colorado and head coach JR Payne have been busy since. The team added two transfers, Tayanna Jones and Madison Buford, over the summer. The only catch was they couldn't meet face-to-face. In-person recruiting became pretty much extinct over the summer. The coaching staff is accustomed to airport hopping in the offseason, moving from state-to-state and tournament-to-tournament trying to land the next top recruit. 

Many of the showcases were still held this summer, but like other sporting events and venues today, the gyms were empty. 

"The scouting part of recruiting was very different," Payne explained. "A lot of players played this summer and there were tournaments, but for us [coaches] it was all watching online which is much different than being there in person. When you're recruiting, you're looking at more than just the basketball, you're looking at the interactions with teammates and how they respond to when something negative happens. Those are things you can't see on film."

On the plus side of things, Payne and the CU coaches have been able to utilize Zoom to chat with different recruits across the world. 

"The cool thing about recruiting has been that we've really begun to utilize zoom as everyone has," Payne added. "The virtual part of it has been really fun. We just had a Zoom with a young player, and it was her, her mom and the rest of the family. It was a way that you can sort of visit face-to-face without actually having to be together."  

Things have had to change as far as basketball around the CU Events Center as well. 

Previously, student-athletes had free access to the Events Center and could come and go as they please. The women's basketball locker room also served as a study-room and lounge. Since the team returned to campus, the locker room, along with all other common areas in the Events Center has been cleared out to avoid congestion and public gathering. Everyone who enters the building must wear a mask, check-in at the door and have their temperature taken, before filling out a health survey.

Practices and team bonding activities have become more creative in planning and execution. In years past, the team would start off the semester with a retreat to strengthen the team's bond. That of course, did not happen. Instead, the team used Zoom meetings over the summer to keep in touch with each other. 

Currently, the Buffs are a few weeks into their allotted weekly practice hours and still have not been able to meet as a full squad.  

"We are certainly counting our blessings," Payne noted. "There are a lot of places and schools in the country that aren't able to do what we're doing. We're in an eight-hour week, so four of the eight hours are with a basketball. The biggest difference has been that we're in functional groups, so our team is basically divided."

These functional groups have split the team into two, not based on basketball but the team's living arrangements and social groups. The two groups of eight remain the same as to limit the contact between the two sides. 

Due to the arrangements, there have been some oddities. It just so happens that one group has all three point guards in it, while the opposite group has had to utilize fill-ins like Aubrey Knight at the point.

The new normal has also put a very different spin on the freshman experience, especially for newcomer Frida Formann. Formann, a native of Bagsværd, Denmark, first had to jump through hoops to get to Colorado and then had to spend her first 14 days of college in quarantine due to her international travel, painting a much different picture than what she had planned for when she first committed to CU. 

"I had planned to arrive in early July after graduating high school in late June," Formann said. "That couldn't happen with the boarders closed so I spent the whole summer just waiting for information and checking the embassy website. The rules were changing all the time. 

"Everything happened real fast once international students were permitted into the country. I had to apply for my visa and do all those things. Then there was the whole quarantine process. It was very different than I had imagined and there were a lot of things unrelated to basketball that I wouldn't have imagined."

The quarantine period did allow Formann to acclimate to things like getting used to her classes and the time difference, but she noted she would have "much rather have gone straight into practice with the team."

The Buffs will continue to work within the new normal. The team is planning to be able to start official practice at some point this fall leading into the start of the season.  The NCAA could vote this week on a potential starting date for winter sports.