By George Pohly
They run hills instead of baseline to baseline, and their vital equipment includes a thermometer and sanitizer rather than a rack of basketballs.
This is New Haven summer hoops in the era of COVID-19.
Different atmosphere. Unconventional schedule. Unusual priorities.
But there's a spirit that’s true to one of Macomb County’s more successful programs.
“We’re here on a mission,” senior Manny Hunter said. “We’re trying to get better, better every day.
“I love these guys, they’re my teammates. We’ve really become a family here.”
The coronavirus pandemic and construction at New Haven High have dislodged the Rockets for the foreseeable future, so they make due in different locales.
One afternoon they’re at the New Haven Community Park. On another, at a park in New Baltimore or the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark.
They meet in small groups with coach Tedaro France II, who takes everyone’s temperature before anything else happens.
“If anyone’s temperature is over 100, they have to leave,” France said.
A session at New Haven Community Park featured drills to improve ball handling skills and defensive techniques, but not before the players finished several minutes of yoga.
“It’s important to take care of the body, first and foremost,” France said. “Our priority now is to have fun, take it slow and not try to make up for lost time.
“Kids think they’ve got to get everything back right now, but they’ve been off for so long. That’s why we’ve got the yoga.”
In a normal year, France’s team would have been to multiple team camps and played dozens of games by the time June expired.
But the Rockets, like prep teams throughout the state, went on indefinite couch duty when the coronavirus crisis emerged in mid-March.
In-person classes were finished. So were team gatherings, workouts and any thoughts about camp.
Only in recent weeks did schools get the go-ahead to bring athletes together for outdoor training sessions.
“I’m just happy to see them,” said France, the Rockets’ coach for more than a decade. “It’s been so long since we’ve been able to be a group.
“It's kind of cool to be outside and not in the gym. The kids are happy to be outside and back to something that’s kind of normal. This is a chance for them to get off the couch, the (video) games, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, whatever they’ve got now.
"The gym, and now here, for a lot of kids is their safe place. They want that escape. It's very important."
France has a bottle of sanitizer at workouts. Equipment is cleaned regularly.
“We take our time,” France said. “We take a lot of breaks.
“We try to keep it as safe as possible.”
It’s not what a basketball team is accustomed to during the long, hot daylight hours of summer, but then, what has been normal in a high school student's life since spring started?
“We make most of our gains from March to June,” said France, who led New Haven to a state championship in 2017. “That’s when we evaluate the kids’ strengths and weaknesses. We missed that key time.”
The way France sees it, if players learn to adjust to circumstances away from the game, perhaps those lessons will serve them in tight situations when competition does resume.
“The kids are seeing that this game can be a guide to what’s next in life,” France said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now. We talk in meetings about adversity, struggle and hard work.
“I enjoy this, working the kids out and seeing the gains they make. We’re in no rush. There’s no rush to jumping back into playing games. Safety’s first.”
New Haven has a new football coach. His name is Larry Porter. He has taken over a program that has averaged more than one new head coach a year for more than a decade.
“We’re trying to split (workout) time with the football coach,” France said. “I’m going around his schedule. He missed a lot of time, too.
“We need our football program back and these kids need to play multiple sports for our school to be successful in multiple sports.”