When the Celtics opened their practice facility at Boston Landing for voluntary individual workouts last week, strict and unprecedented guidelines were implemented to protect against possible COVID-19 transmission. Tests, temperature checks, protective equipment, social distancing, and constant disinfecting have all been implemented. And sometimes, there are adjustments on the fly.
“I had to make sure I had a second pair of gloves in my pocket,” assistant coach Scott Morrison said, “because Semi [Ojeleye] threw a pass to me in one of the drills and it ripped one of my gloves. Add it to the legend of Ojeleye.”
For the players trickling into the facility, the one-hour sessions have not been all that unusual. The biggest difference has been what transpires around them.
Gone, for now at least, are the days of two assistant coaches rebounding for a player while a third offers instruction. Now, players can work out with just one coach and no teammates, and the coach must wear a protective mask and gloves throughout the session.
“They’ve gotten kind of spoiled over the last few seasons having three or four bodies out there with them, being physical, having them make decisions against defense, having them score over people at the rim,” Morrison said. “And now it’s all one vs. zero, because you have to stay so far away. So it’s just kind of on us to find workouts that are beneficial and make sure they get something out of it.”
Assistant coach Jay Larranaga said skill development is probably the most important part of an assistant’s job, and having a chance to refocus on that role recently has been one silver lining during this confusing time. Still, he said, it’s certainly nothing like it used to be.
“The biggest challenge is there’s just not as many people around,” Larranaga said. “And, just socializing. I get there and Scott and Gordon [Hayward] are shooting, and you wave hello but you really want to go over and hang out and help rebound. But that’s just not the way it is right now.”
Coaches can bring masks from home or use new ones provided by the Celtics each day. There are about five types to choose from. Morrison said that when he first started wearing a mask in everyday life, he all but forgot that he was able to speak with it on. He would go to the grocery store and make hand motions instead.
Since then, though, he has become more comfortable. He goes on runs through his neighborhood wearing a mask, so a generally light workout with a basketball player is hardly a hindrance.
“The first day there might have been some chuckles about it when Gordon or Semi or whoever walked out and saw me in the mask and gloves,” Morrison said. “But now we just walk in and it’s become the norm. It’s all really safe. It’s nice to know that everyone’s taking it seriously.”
‘“The first day there might have been some chuckles about it when Gordon or Semi or whoever walked out and saw me in the mask and gloves. But now we just walk in and it’s become the norm. It’s all really safe. It’s nice to know that everyone’s taking it seriously.”’
Scott Morrison, Celtics assistant coach
Center Enes Kanter posted a video on Instagram showing some of the precautions that are being taken at the facility, including a maintenance worker wiping down backboards, and a sign for players to leave on workout equipment to show that it has been used and needs to be disinfected.
“My wife is a germaphobe so it’s much more difficult for me to follow the rules at home than it is to follow them at the facility,” Larranaga quipped. “The first thing I hear when I get back from workouts is, ‘Did you sanitize your phone? Did you wash your hands?’ I’d say the facility is a little more relaxed for me.”
Morrison and Larranaga said the players who have come to the facility are in excellent shape despite the long layoff. Morrison said that from the moment the NBA was shuttered, Hayward continued with his training as if it was certain the league would return this summer. Larranaga said that when Jayson Tatum returned to the Auerbach Center on Monday, he made about 90 percent of his shots.
When it was revealed that the NBA would be resuming at Walt Disney World in Orlando in late July, it gave everyone a boost.
“I think most people were in the same boat mentally, where the hardest thing was the uncertainty over the last stretch,” Morrison said. “And then once they came out and said this was going to happen, a bit of a weight was lifted off people’s shoulders and things became more clear. Now you have a timeline and some goals and some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.