PHOENIX – Johnny McCants and his teammates in the state of New Mexico built up a routine less than a week after the team temporarily moved to Arizona.
The Aggies lift weights in the morning, exercise in the afternoon, and watch a movie before dinner. The rest of the time is spent in secluded classes and with school work or hanging out to play video games, perhaps going to the pool or hot tub at Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix.
Need something from outside the bubble – fast food, maybe a razor – all they have to do is ask and someone will bring it to them.
The hard part: being so far from home.
“I grew up in (Las) Cruces and have been with my family all along, so it will probably be difficult to be away from them for a few months,” said McCants, a senior forward. “But a little adversity will never hurt anyone.”
The Aggies aren’t the only ones,
Coronavirus restrictions in New Mexico have made it impossible for the schools there to play their seasons. State regulations prevent gatherings of more than five people and destroy practices. A 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering New Mexico ends hopes for games.
To get around the restrictions, the top earning sports at New Mexico’s two largest universities took a drastic step.
The New Mexico football team was the first to temporarily relocate, relocating from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to practice and play.
The New Mexico state men’s basketball team chose to move from Las Cruces to Phoenix, while the women’s team will train in Tucson and play in various locations.
The two New Mexico basketball teams went to Texas; the men in Lubbock, the women in Amarillo and Canyon. The Aggies soccer team stayed at home after the school chose not to practice fall sports due to state restrictions.
The moves weren’t as easy as let’s play elsewhere.
Moving takes weeks of planning to make sure everyone in the tour party is comfortable and safe. The move involved not only the players and staff, but also massive loads of equipment, from weights and football shoulder pads to whiteboards and Gatorade buckets.
It takes time to get used to a routine, to adjust to a temporary home. It’s also less comfortable in some ways, with no plush locker rooms, large conference rooms or access to high-tech training rooms.
“It’s character building in many ways,” said New Mexico basketball coach Paul Weir. “It takes some getting used to an isolated life in a very small space. I think it’s something you learn and you just have to find out what those positive things are. “
The New Mexico football team went straight to Las Vegas after opening in San Jose state to avoid being quarantined in New Mexico. The Lobos brought weights and other training equipment and set up study rooms in a bubble at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa. They practice and play at the Sam Boyd Stadium, formerly the home of UNLV football, as they try to adapt.
“This has turned everyone’s world upside down,” said New Mexico football coach Danny Gonzales.
Being on the road together has its advantages.
At home, players and coaches see each other for training, meetings and movie sessions. Free time is just that for the players.
A bubble has limited what and where players can go, so there is more time for meetings or even interactions with coaches in the hotel’s common areas.
“It’s pretty busy because we’re still keeping the same schedule as when we were in Albuquerque, but the point now is we just get extra meeting times with the coaches,” said Lobos quarterback Tevaka Tuioti. “We see them 24/7. It’s not like every day to see them half the day. “
It’s also been a great experience with the band, like NFL teams traveling for training camp.
The players are already close and spend a lot of time together at home. The life of bubbles allows them to bond even more, with more time for epic video game battles, a dip in the hot tub, or hanging out on the premises.
“It was a great experience for us as a team because we could basically all stay together in one place,” said McCants. “We see each other every day, it strengthens our team chemistry even more. Being able to exercise and not have to travel that far and have everything so close is just a good opportunity for us. “