WARWICK, R.I. – The top-ranked high school basketball player in Rhode Island wears size 16 black-and-white Giannis Antetokounmpo “Freak 1” Nikes even though LeBron James is his favorite player, white or black above-the-ankle socks depending on whether the Pilgrim High Patriots are home or away, and a matching sleeve on his arm that he occasionally takes off after half time if he’s not feeling right.
But as he begins his pandemic-shortened senior season, Tyriek Weeks has added another accessory to his game gear that he hasn’t quite gotten used to wearing, but knows he’s not allowed to remove: a blue mask that slips below the six-foot-five all–stater’s nose every time he slashes to the rim for another two points.
The mask requirement is one of the many COVID-19 protocols being implemented by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League as schools across the state seek to salvage the winter sports season, and Weeks said he’s happy to wear it if it keeps him in the gym with his teammates.
“Honestly, I tried to prepare by wearing it a week or two before we started practicing, but I couldn’t do it,” Weeks said. “It takes a little time to get used to, but once you find the right mask, it’s fine.”
Rhode Island is one of 17 states – including Massachusetts and Connecticut – that requires high school athletes to wear a mask during competition, according to a survey from the National Federation of State High Schools Association.
Those aren’t the only rules.
Halftimes are reduced to five minutes due to locker room restrictions, basketballs must be wiped down with disinfectant after each quarter, social distancing must be followed on the bench, and postgame handshakes are banned.
How’s it going so far? The season only started last weekend, but teams have provided positive feedback, according to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League executive director Michael Lunney. He said the state’s 60 schools have successfully implemented safety protocols and were prepared for the games to begin.
“So far, so good,” Lunney said.
Weeks got off to a difficult start, as his Pilgrim team dropped its opener to East Greenwich 64-56. He was held to 11 points, well below his expected average for the year. But Weeks isn’t one to make excuses, and he said that he thinks Pilgrim will surprise some teams this year.
And he’s already turned some heads among college coaches.
Weeks is No. 1 rated player in Rhode Island, according to New England Recruiting Report, and he has college offers from UMass and Towson University. His father, Tyrone Weeks, played on the UMass team that went to the Final Four in 1996, and his brother, TJ, is a redshirt freshman for the Minutemen this season.
Tyriek said his mother, Kimberly Weeks, wants him to go to the Ivy League, and he’s gotten some interest from Yale and Princeton. He also said he’s willing to consider spending a year at a prep school to attract more interest from Division I programs.
“Trying to get Harvard knocking on my door,” he said.
Weeks said it has been nice to start playing games again, but he acknowledged that conditioning has been his team’s biggest challenge. His previous season ended last February and his AAU team decided to not play during the pandemic. He still worked out all summer and spent most of his time in the gym, but even the most intense pickup games don’t rival the real thing.
He said the team started to get in good shape as it began practicing in November, but then the state saw its COVID-19 number skyrocket, and workouts were halted.
Now that he’s back on the court, Weeks isn’t going to let a mask disrupt his season.
“It’s a small price to pay to be playing the game, to actually finish the season because last year was cut short,” said Yianni Kourakis, a reporter for WPRI-TV who covers high school sports.
Indeed, Weeks feels like he has something to prove this season.
While he’s used to being the best player on the court, his team went viral last season for the wrong reason. With less than two seconds on the clocks against Narraganset, Weeks was at the free-throw line with a chance to ice the game. His shot bounced off the rim into Colby Corson’s hands, and the player threw a full-court prayer that banked off the glass and went in to send the game to overtime.
Narraganset won the game, and Corson’s shot was the play of the night on ESPN’s SportsCenter. Weeks said he hasn’t forgotten.
The teams won’t meet in the regular season, but Weeks wouldn’t mind a rematch.
And Lunney said the Rhode Island Interscholastic League is committed to holding playoffs this season, as long as the state doesn’t seen another uptick in COVID-19 cases. He said he’s closely monitoring some of the new variants to the virus, but he’s cautiously optimistic that winter sports will be completed and a full spring sports season can be played.
In fact, Lunney said Rhode Island still hopes to offer football at some point before school ends.
“We’re taking it as it goes,” Lunney said.
Dan McGowan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.