GVSU hoops squads own campus over break

Laker teams look forward to students returning to home games

By Alex Eisen | 1/10/16 11:23pm


GVL/Luke Holmes Zach West (no.11) makes a layup on a breakaway.

Louie the Laker stomped away on an empty section of bleachers as the Grand Valley State cheer team yelled sporadically into its megaphones. The Fieldhouse Arena couldn't muster much noise as Findlay sunk free throws down the stretch to put away the GVSU men’s basketball team in its latest home game on Jan. 3.

Home court advantage isn’t the same without a pep band and a crazed student section.

Approaching the halfway point of the season, winter break comes at an inconvenient time for college basketball. Both the GVSU men’s and women’s programs, however, have adapted accordingly to make the most of an awkward situation.

“Holiday break is one of the more challenging times,” said men’s head coach Ric Wesley. “Your fellow students have a nice, long break and in basketball we don’t.”

For the past two weeks since reporting back on Dec. 28, the two teams have been the “lone rangers” on an otherwise desolate college campus. The NCAA requires that college athletes be given at least seven days off for winter break.

Everyone gets a chance to head back home and visit their families over Christmas, which is greatly appreciated. But, to call this seven-day period a “break” would be a disservice to the players who pride themselves on staying in shape to prevent any physical setbacks for when they return.

“You obviously relax over Christmas, but you can’t just sit down over those seven days,” said men’s leading scorer Luke Ryskamp. “You’ll come back and won’t be feeling good that first day of practice. You got to jog and keep working out. You probably get a solid two days break for real.”

That dedication and work ethic can be found in both programs, and makes the time off less stressful for the coaches.

“These kids are pretty serious,” said women’s head coach Mike Williams. “They did stuff when they went home, whether it was their local high school, or got to a gym or whatever, they kept their bodies in great shape. When we came back on the 28th it was like we had never taken a day off.”

Williams, not to be outdone, also had a productive week himself by managing to squeeze in three “undistracted” days to spend with his family and on recruiting trips across the Midwest.

“Seven days is too long for me to be away from the game,” Williams said. “But, hey we did it and it worked out great. So, I think it’s a good rule.”

Makeshift two-a-day workouts awaited the players when they got back on campus.

The men do a morning session of either lifting or watching film followed by breakfast before going into an afternoon practice session, whereas the women usually practice in the morning and get individual workouts done in the evening with a team dinner afterward.

It's a steady, compact schedule, but without classes to focus on, there is still plenty of downtime.

“We at least try to have a little fun over break because most of the students aren’t here, and it’s just us,” said junior Trevin Alexander. “It’s actually good for us to get more of a team bonding. (We) go over to coach’s house to eat or watch a couple of college games at somebody’s apartment.

“It gives everybody a chance to get to know someone on a more personal level besides basketball.”

The team bonding is inevitable, as the players have no choice but to spend extended time with each other.

“There is nobody else here, so you better get along. If not, you’re going to be a lonely fellow there for a while,” Wesley said. “Our team is somewhat like a fraternity or sorority, certainly the games and competition are a big part of it, but the relationship part of it is probably equally as important.”

Team chemistry goes a long way on the court, but the friendships established now can have a lasting impact on the rest of the players' lives. Life keeps moving on after college athletics.

Time is limited and it goes by so fast. Just like that, the winter semester is upon us, and it’s time for GVSU and the Fieldhouse Arena to come to alive once again.

“It’s a different time of the year,” Wesley said. “We look forward to getting our students back to feel their energy and support. Not just at the games, but just day-to-day as we move around campus.”

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