When the pandemic began and it was clear the nation — the world, really — would need to lock down, many of us probably told ourselves that we would make the most out of being stuck at home.
By the time it was over, most of us were just relieved to have made it through. Some of us just learned to bake bread. Some people learned a new language. Some people just watched a ton of TV.
But habits become hard to break, and hobbies that were adopted out of necessity have become lifelong hobbies for some of us.
So which activities or hobbies got ACC basketball players through the darkest days of COVID, and what do they continue to do now?
During ACC Tipoff, I asked 12 different players that question. The responses were varied, but some players were able to get to know themselves a lot better during the time alone. Some are conventional, and some … less so.
Three players referenced either themselves or their teammates (or both) getting into golf. This was particularly true for NC State and Florida State, both of which took it up during the pandemic.
Florida State guard Anthony Polite is from Switzerland and he had never played golf before COVID. He has now, though — a lot. “Me and a couple of teammates started playing golf. That’s one thing we could do where we would be safe (from COVID),” Polite said. “We practiced a lot and then we had a lot of time, more time to do that. Some of us got actually pretty good and we compete sometimes, just go out and have fun with it.”
Polite said he can generally shoot below 100.
Miami point guard Isaiah Wong took up the sport as well, becoming a regular at Top Golf. “I’ve been going at least once every couple weeks. I think I’ve got a membership now,” Wong said. “Golf is hard. At Top Golf, when I have bad days I just get stressed out. But I feel like it’s relaxing at the same time.”
NC State basketball players tried to take it up as well, but forward Manny Bates said it didn’t stick after awhile. “We tried to (take up golf) but I feel like there’s only 2-3 of us that are actually good at it,” Bates said.
And Bates had other interests. Namely …
Other players referenced getting to listen to more music, but Bates actually decided to learn an instrument — the piano.
“During the shutdown, my friend taught me how to play the piano, so I went out and got a keyboard and I’ve got that in my room now,” Bates said. “I can play a few songs. I’ve been playing a lot of slow songs, ‘Someone You Loved’ by Lewis Capaldi —songs like that, just slow songs.”
Bates, along with Florida State big man Malik Osborne, was one of two players that also like to draw. But the piano was a new pursuit for him.
Osborne was not part of the golf group with his Seminole teammates. His dad spent much of his life trying to get Osborne into golf, but to no avail.
Instead, and especially after a few early COVID quarantines, he picked up all kinds of solitary habits: painting, drawing, of course binge-watching TV and … jigsaw puzzles.
“I had some of our (graduate assistants) give me some puzzles. I think I did a 1,000-piece puzzle. It took a looooong time. I realized in that time of just doing the puzzle that it was something that I really was into, something that I really was interested in and it was very calming,” Osborne said. “The fact that basketball is always so high-tempo when the season starts and it can get hectic, but being able to paint and do puzzles like that, I felt like it really just put my mind at ease, really just settled me down.
“My realm is the peaceful realm. It’s the TV shows. it’s the puzzles. It’s the games. It’s just sitting around and listening to music. But yeah, golfing has become a very prominent hobby among the team. I feel like I need to go get some clubs so I can join some of the fun.”
Two players — Duke senior forward Joey Baker and Notre Dame senior center Nate Laszewski — said they got more into reading than they were pre-pandemic.
Laszewski said the book that stood out to him the most was Teddy Roosevelt’s “The River of Doubt”, a book about the former president’s exploration of the Amazon River.
Baker particularly enjoyed Steve Jobs’ biography. His own soon-to-be-retiring head coach has written a few books, too. Did he read any of Mike Krzyzewski’s books?
“No, I haven’t,” Baker said. “I’m waiting until I’m not playing for him.”
Or cutting, to be exact.
Virginia Tech forward Justyn Mutts decided he’d learn to do something plenty of people had to do by necessity. “I learned how to cut my own hair in quarantine. That’s one way to save some money, so I just started doing that,” Mutts said. “I just watched a couple of YouTube videos. It’s way easier than people think it is.”
But he added another skill to his repertoire…
Mutts particularly worked on meditation during the lockdown and beyond. The ACC gave all of the players access to the Headspace app, and UNC guard Caleb Love talked about using the Calm app for meditation last season as well.
“I’ve definitely been meditating, sitting, just being able to be calm and be still, not have to have my mind be jumping from thought to thought, just learning how to control it a little bit more. Just be present, honestly. I’ve been finding peace. I found peace in quarantine, I found peace in Blacksburg and that’s the most beautiful thing to me about it,” Mutts said.
Mutts says that there is a stigma associated with meditation that is unfair, and he says that players are cheating themselves by missing out on the resource. “The ACC is doing a really good job. I think they got every team in the ACC that subscription, and that’s a beautiful thing. What I’m worried about its that people aren’t taking advantage of it. It could be such a resource to people, there’s a negative stigma on meditation and people don’t want to do it.
“I would love to see all my teammates meditating. I would love to see all my teammates all on that self-care, taking care of yourself because that’s all you really have is yourself throughout your life, so why not really invest in that and take care of it?”
GETTING A DOG (THE SAME BREED, ODDLY)
Once it was a year beyond the pandemic, stores started to come out about dogs that had been adopted during the pandemic to soothe people’s loneliness, only to be returned to shelters once the owners’ lives returned to semi-normal again.
But two ACC players have happier dog stories.
For Wake Forest guard Isaiah Mucius, he has a cousin who worked in the respiratory field and had recently gotten a German shepherd puppy not long before the pandemic. As you might expect, his cousin’s life became significantly more hectic.
In stepped Mucius, his brother and his parents, who had never had a dog when they were growing up because they were always too busy playing basketball. They took in the German Shepherd puppy — Apollo — at about a year old.
“He’s the best German Shepherd in the world,” Mucius said.
Apollo kept his whole family busy during lockdown, and they even would argue about who would get to feed him. Mucius said the dog kept him in shape as well.
“We would go out, throw the ball with him, just go on runs. He’s the reason why I was in condition when I got back because he’ll take off on you when you’re running. I’ll have the leash and go for a light jog and then end up going on a two-mile run because I can’t keep up with him,” Mucius said.
His cousin still visits the dog, but it’s their family’s dog now.
“Even though at times we were like ‘COVID is the worst’, (Apollo) just continued to be that bright spot for us and always show us how to have fun. Having him as a dog has been such an amazing feeling,” Mucius said.
The dog even has its own Instagram account, and in likely related news, Mucius referred to the dog as…