Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang told reporters a few days ago that every NBA player he has spoken to since the season went on hiatus is eager for games to start up again, for the schedule to be completed and a champion to be crowned.
In the same conversation, Niang gave some intriguing insight into how he is preparing to return to action should the season indeed be restarted.
On May 8, the league granted teams the ability to reopen their practice facilities to players for individual, voluntary workouts, provided that the locale in which those facilities are situated have correspondingly eased stay-at-home restrictions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Jazz wound up opening the Zions Bank Basketball Campus on Monday, May 11, and announced that afternoon that “a handful” of players had come in to participate. Though the team did not mention which players specifically, because the workouts are voluntary, Niang confirmed on Friday that he had been in the building each day it was allowed.
After first joking about making a triumphant stylin’ and profilin’ return (“You know the first day of school when you walk in and you bring in your fresh new outfit? I had some crispy Jazz gear when I rolled up in there.”), Niang painted a stark and unique picture of what it’s been like inside.
“The guy that is on our training staff has to be in full [personal protective equipment] — whether that's a mask, gloves; I know he's carrying around a spray bottle and a towel,” Niang said. “So, basically every step that I take or wherever I go, that place is getting sprayed down.”
In describing some of the safety protocols in place to hopefully prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 disease, the fourth-year power forward noted he was under the impression that only two people at a time were allowed in the weight room, but that it hadn’t been an issue for him because he has been “in there really early in the morning.”
He said that every player who enters the facility is briefed on the rules by a team employee designated to enforce the protocols.
“There’s basically, I don’t want to say a ‘hygiene czar,’ but I mean, there’s a person that knows all the rules for what is supposed to happen,” Niang said.
Dennis Lindsey, the Jazz’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, told media before the ZBBC opened that the organization not only wanted to “make sure the facility meets all of the league specifications, local/state health officials’ protocols,” but that the team was “going to be even a little bit more stringent to those standards, creating our own standards.”
Niang said the inevitable and unavoidable byproduct of such efforts is that the practice facility had gone from feeling like a “safe haven” for players to now “you don't feel as safe when you look across and your trainer is wearing a mask and gloves, and you have a mask on, and you're constantly having to sanitize and do different things.”
That said, he acknowledged feeling grateful for the ability to get in his first real proper workouts since teammate Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the league immediately shut down.
“You're kind of just happy to get in a place that has gym equipment and a basketball hoop — better than my guest bedroom that had 25-pound dumbbells and a stationary bike,” he added.
The best part, in his estimation, was having access to NBA-level hoops once again, after having to get by with whatever he could get his hands on before.
“It’s an amazing feeling to just get back in a facility with a normal hoop and not have to shoot outside,” Niang said. “A bunch of us have been shooting on Lifetime [Fitness] hoops. I thought I was in the sixth grade again, having the ball bounce all over the place.”
Of course, he joked, he was so unaccustomed to the professional equipment and so out of sorts from the hiatus that his early shot attempts at the ZBBC also resulted in the ball bouncing all over the place.
“Let me tell you this: The person that’s rebounding for me probably lost about 17 pounds chasing down rebounds in the first week,” Niang said. “… Obviously, you get in there and the first shot is like you thought you threw your back out. But then once you get warmed up and moving around, everything seems to get back to normal.”
And the process of getting back to normal has been big for Niang and his teammates.
Even if we’re still weeks away from an official comeback plan for resuming the season being officially announced, the simple process of hearing that practice facilities would be reopening meant a lot to Jazz players craving some semblance of routine.
“Once you started hearing, ‘May 1st, the facility is going to open,’ and then it moved to May 8th, then it was May 11th and … the timeline has been the best thing. Guys just have been prepared to have a timeline for their life,” Niang said. “The season, it’s from one month to another month, the offseason is another month to another month, and I think guys are just excited that we’ve kind of got some dates and some months nailed down to where we can finally feel like we can get back to somewhat of a normal [existence].”