COVID-19 has made Chris Gerber’s first season as the head coach of the Northern Oklahoma College Enid Jets more than challenging.
Usually by Christmas, the Jets would have 10 or more games in and already have started their conference season.
They went into the holidays with only one scrimmage and still having to wait until Jan. 22 for their first game (OnPoint Academy).
“We’re going with the flow and see what happens,’’ said Gerber, who will welcome his team back to practice on Jan. 7. The Jets have not had any practices since the Thanksgiving break.
The Jets were limited at first to practicing in three- to four-player pods. They were cleared to practice five-on-five in early October, but were put into quarantine in late October. They were able to return to practice Nov. 10.
“We’re doing all right,’’ Gerber said. “We have had a wrench thrown at us, but the guys have shown up every day and competed. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re doing the best we can in this crazy year. I appreciate how hard the guys have been working, and we’re excited to see what January brings.’’
The Jets did scrimmage at Pratt (Kan.) on Nov. 14. They will scrimmage Northern Arkansas on Jan. 9 and Butler County on Jan. 13.
“We were missing a few guys because some were sick and some were in quarantine,’’ Gerber said. “I thought we competed well. We did a good job moving the ball.’’
Gerber said the scrimmage showed the Jets needed to work on their rebounding and defensive intensity.
“Pratt was able to throw it inside quite a bit,’’ Gerber said. “We’ll be working on that when we get back.’’
The Jets have lost only one player since school started. Hennessey’s Angel Rodriguez, who was scheduled to redshirt this year, won’t because this will be a year that won’t count against anyone’s eligibility.
“The guys have been able to handle every challenge and everything thrown our way,’’ Gerber said. “They have been staying together and moving forward. They know how crazy this year will be. We’re going to stay together and move forward as a team.’’
Returning sophomores Ikenna Okeke (10.9 ppg), Jalen Stamps (8.6 ppg) and Andrew O’Brien (4.5 ppg) have been solid leaders so far, Gerber said. Sophomore transfers forward Noah Jordan and guard Teyon Scanlan have stepped up as well.
“Jalen Stamps has definitely taken the leadership role,’’ Gerber said. “I’m really hard on our point guards and what they need to work on, but Jalen has really grown this year. Tydarius Fish (another sophomore transfer) has been great. They have been good for the team.’’
Scanlan transferred from Ancilla College, where he had been recruited by ex-Jets coach Aaron Butcher. Jordan transferred from Hill College in Texas. Freshman Dakoda Joachim, of Joilet, Ill., and Alex Raiford, of Chicago, have looked at the wings.
“They are adjusting,’’ Gerber said. “I think both of them will be fine for us.’’
Gerber had been promoted to head coach after Butcher resigned this summer to take a high school position in his native Indiana. He had recruited heavily in the Indiana-Illinois area, but those players have stayed and have adjusted well to Oklahoma, especially considering all of the restrictions.
“One thing you can say about this team is that they definitely care for each other,’’ Gerber said. “It’s a close-knit group. They lean on each other. This has definitely brought us closer together. They know we will have some ups and downs. We just need to stay together as a team and make good things happen. They have accepted that role and move forward.’’
Gerber, who had assisted both Greg Shamburg and Butcher at NOC Enid, said the transition has been smooth coaching-wise.
“We (Butcher and Gerber) recruited these guys together,’’ he said. “I’m excited to stay with them and see what we do this year. I am blessed to be in this position and I am thankful for NOC to give me a chance to coach these kids. I knew what I signed up for, and I’m enjoying doing it.’’
All the players live on campus and have followed the COVID-19 guidelines on wearing masks and following social distancing. The school finished the fall semester in virtual learning.
“We have been learning on the fly,’’ Gerber said. “The guys have been up to the challenge and they are learning. We will have some length to us and some versatility and some playmakers. We’re just trying to get them on the same page and work together. We haven’t had the practices we wanted, but it’s just been a crazy year.’’
Gerber pointed out NOC Enid is no different from any other junior college team as far as COVID-19 is concerned. The season was set back to January last summer.
“The guys are showing up when we have a practice and compete,’’ he said. “We’ll just go with it and see what happens.’’
The Jets will have challenges early. They will face traditional powers Odessa (Texas) and New Mexico Junior College at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond on Jan. 24 and Jan. 26.
“We’re getting good competition early,’’ Gerber said. “I think the two scrimmages will speed up the process, and having three games in six days we get the guys in shape. I tell the guys all the time that once it’s here, it’s here and you got to be in shape. We’ll get together as a team and move forward.’’