Housing talented prospects from around the country and indeed the world, the immediate response to the coronavirus pandemic was simple.
“One of the first things when realising the seriousness of it all, was getting the athletes home around their families,” Caporn recalled. “We just didn’t know how bad it was going to get and we went initially from thinking we are safe to not being able to travel with 24 young men away from their family for a long time.
“We moved quickly, and we got everyone home safely. Of course, we have international players with the NBA Global Academy from places like Nigeria and China, so we had a small group here of internationals that we looked after until travel was possible.”
While many of the local athletes returned home, the AIS worked diligently towards creating a safe bubble-like environment to protect the health of those who were unable to return home.
“It was an unusual time trying to keep the small group working in a safe way, keep them physically and mentally healthy. In the back half of the year, we were able to bring athletes back and get them back to school and it felt like a really big win because so many other places were locked down and not able to compete in sport. The AIS did a really great job of creating a safe bubble environment where we could train every day and be productive. You quickly realised we were in a very privileged position.”
The impact of missing valuable on court time was a significant concern for Caporn and the other staff at the COE, with professional ambitions put on hold as the country and world dealt with the ramifications of the virus.
“I was worried about how the athletes would handle it and how it would be on their wellbeing and education, but they were great. They seemed to realise that they could play basketball with each other and work on their game, work on their bodies and stick with school where a lot of other people couldn’t do those things.”
“I think they were all impacted very heavily by missing out on competition. We were lucky here because we had a good number of athletes so we could create our own mini tournaments and scrimmages.”
While having the opportunity to regularly work out in a competitive environment was a significant benefit that many across the world were unable to access, Caporn admits that in game experience cannot be replicated.
“I think we are still seeing the effects of it. There are skill repercussions for sure and decision making. I don’t have any obvious evidence of what that is, but you see things that pique your interest. My personal anecdotal evidence is that the things that challenge you in a game when you are young and more of a challenge now. Often that’s the speed of the game and playing slow in a chaotic environment.”
Off the court, the emphasis and awareness of mental health became a priority, with the circumstances allowing the coaching staff to form a closer connection with the athletes in a tough year for all.
“One of the things for me is that we were so mindful of the challenges the athletes were going through and so restricted by travel so the obvious place to invest was personal relationships and development. I was able to spend more time connecting with other coaches and getting feedback from the players. They are things we’ve always done but because you are forced to focus on them you are reminding the power of those things. I think we grew our ability in that space.”
Back to somewhat usual schedule in the early stages of 2021, Caporn remains aware that the landscape can change at any time, with an emphasis on living in the moment and taking the opportunities as they come. One of those golden opportunities came in February, with a number of CoE and Global Academy athletes suiting up for the Boomers in a 2021 FIBAAsia Cup Group C Qualifier against New Zealand.
“The opportunity for a number of our guys to play in Cairns for the Boomers fell into our lap. It kind of seemed like the very opportunities we were talking about happened and we were very grateful to have that chance. It felt like a reward for that long period of time.”
Overall, Caporn praised the adaptability and positiveness of his players who consistently managed to make the best of a difficult situation. As tournaments and events resume, the future is bright for the CoE and NBA Global Academy talent, with a major tournament on the horizon providing significant motivation.
“The under 19 World Championships is the big one,” Caporn said of the tournament scheduled for July. “Not every athlete will have the chance to do that of course but those international events will give the athletes the opportunity to be rewarded for all the work they’ve been putting in and represent their country.”
The BA CoE and NBA Global Academy men’s programs return to competitive action this month with the resumption of the Basketball ACT Premier League and Basketball NSW Spalding Waratah Cup for 2021.
Written by Kane Pitman, freelance contributor for Basketball Australia
Image credit Floyd Mallon