Raptors forward Malcolm Miller hasn’t had basketball in his hands with a hoop in front of him in over two months.
So when word came that the Raptors, in conjunction with health officials and local government, had hammered out an agreement that would see the Raptors be able to safely use their practice facility in limited fashion, Miller was the first one requesting entry.
Monday morning he and assistant coach Brittni Donaldson entered the OVO Athletic Centre, were checked in by a single security officer, had their temperature taken by an on-site health official and then filled out a health form before entering the gym.
Once in the gym it was only Donaldson and Miller. The Raptors, under NBA guidelines could have up to as many as four players in the gym at one time to adhere to social distancing mandates, but in an effort to be as careful as possible, the team has opted to allow just one player in at a time with just one on-court coach.
That could change in the coming days, but for now, that’s the format.
For an hour Donaldson put Miller through his paces working on his shooting, his ball handling and not much else for the time being given how long it has been since Miller was actually able to do any basketball activity and the fact that with only two people in the gym, options are limited.
Still, Miller couldn’t say enough about the opportunity.
“It definitely felt strange,” Miller, the third-year forward said of the experience. “I missed it. It was a good experience just to have the basketball in your hands, feel the basketball and just get back to the game you love, even in a different format.
It’s still a good experience.”
For Donaldson there was no trepidation re-entering the working environment that has been closed off to her for more than two months because of the on-going pandemic. She saw the process unfold as the team prepared to safely start bringing their team back to work and she felt fully secure returning to work.
“It’s all completely voluntary for everybody,” she said for both the players and the coaches. “I think we’ve been in contact with everybody in the organization from the top down about this possibility happening, about the facility possibly opening. We’ve covered all of our bases, we’ve been really deliberate about making sure everybody feels safe and we’re taking the extra precautionary steps to go above and beyond even what the NBA mandated. We’re only allowing one player in the gym at a time, we’re not allowing the players to bring their phones in, for example. I felt a sense of comfort just for the work our organization has done logistically to make this as smooth, organized a process as possible.”
Miller, whose off-season home is in Gaithersberg, Maryland chose to remain in Toronto since the league shut down back in early March because there wasn’t the access to a private gym or facility where he could work out.
He stayed in Toronto and got his workouts in at home whether that was his own P90X program or the group yoga sessions via video the Raptors do a couple of mornings a week. He also has the stationary bike the team delivered to this Toronto digs and a bench and weights.
But he had no where to actually get up shots or play basketball so on Monday, while just a small step in the broader scheme of a return to work, was still very big for him.
“I wouldn’t say it was a race but I definitely requested to be first,” he said of getting his time in the re-opened team practice gym. “I like to always be in there early, get my work done. Been heavy on the piano and into video games (lately) so that gives me a little extra time for that.
“Just trying to get back to a normal routine,” he said. “During the season, we’d come into the gym before 11 o’clock, before 12 o’clock to get our work in so I’m just trying to make it feel as normal as possible.”
Miller says the plan is to take advantage of the opportunity four or five times a week. Again this is strictly voluntary. Teams cannot pressure players into these workouts. Chris Paul, president of the Players’ Association took care of that when he mentioned it to commissioner Adam Silver on a conference call last week.
Silver at the time said such a move by any team would be “disheartening” and assured Paul and the rest of the players on the call that he would reiterate this to all team management groups.
Miller said he was surprised how quickly his jumper came back but admitted his dribbling skills (his handle) wasn’t quite what it had been before the pandemic shut down sports worldwide.
As it stands right now about half the team is in Toronto and as of Wednesday about half of those had decided to take the opportunity to get some shots up. That could change at any point.
“I think that’s kind of fluid, you know, It’s kind of day by day,” Donaldson said. “We take a poll of who would be interested in coming in and we try to put out a schedule but obviously it’s all voluntary, there’s no pressure, no repercussions if somebody doesn’t want to come in. We’re just trying to keep a rolling a schedule and keep it as organized as possible.”