UA Basketball

A Season Unlike Any Other

Under Armour Dives into the Challenges of Six Elite Coaches Tasked with Leading Student-Athletes Through a Unique Season

On March 12, 2020, the call was made. Coaches from 132 programs had to tell their players, staff and fans, that after a season of work, sweat, losses and wins -- it was over. There would be no tournament.  


A year later, through quarantines, scheduling changes and postponements, frequent testing, and games in empty arenas, there’s renewed hope on the horizon with the 2021 tournament kicking off for some teams.  


Under Armour asked six coaches about their mindset and the mental resilience that was needed to guide their student-athletes over the last 365 days. 


Aaron Johnston, South Dakota State Women's Basketball: Thinking back to the beginning of the season, you knew going into it, it was going to be a year like no other. The hurdles in front of us to have a season, to even begin a season, seemed almost insurmountable. We had to really take each day and make the most of it, which forced us to connect with our players, coaches, and people in our program to invest in one another and to take care of our family of a basketball team. 


Greg Gard, Wisconsin Men's Basketball: Entering the season, we were grateful for [the] opportunity to play, no matter what format would unfold. There were many days in the offseason where we weren’t sure we would have a season, so we were excited that our guys would have the chance to compete.


Brenda Frese, Maryland Women's Basketball: We spent a lot of time talking about being grateful for this moment. I think we all know and understand when it was taken away from us last year that nothing is guaranteed. We do make sure that we value each and every day, whether it be a practice or the next game that we get to play because we understand fully that nothing is guaranteed. 


Chris Beard, Texas Tech Men's Basketball: We tell our guys to enjoy the journey and don't worry about the destination. I think this year, this was truer than ever. We simply just went to work and tried to have the best day that we could, concentrating on the process and not the outcome. 


Joe McKeown, Northwestern Women's Basketball: We’ve used the 2019-2020 season as a motivating force for our team since we won the Big Ten Championship last year. We feel like we have to defend it, which has helped our players lock in and focus. 


Chris Beard, Texas Tech Men's Basketball: We agreed we’d be a part of the solution and not the problem. Let's try to actually make some change. We've done that, led by one of our captains and his quest to use the no bad apples slogan that we've had this year. We’ve volunteered, had tough conversations, educated ourselves and put our time and effort and resources into real causes. I’m really proud of our team and we're just getting started. This is something that we're all going to do the rest of our lives. 


Joe McKeown, Northwestern Women's Basketball: Our team has shown support in a variety of ways. In addition to the programming and workshops we’ve participated in as a staff and team, our student-athletes are leaders on campus and in the community. Some of our players are a part of a mentoring program at a local Chicago Public School. Also, some of our players participate in Northwestern’s Black Student-Athlete Alliance, which is a student-athlete led organization that is actively involved in advocacy, education and fundraising.


Mark Turgeon, Maryland Men's Basketball: The most challenging adjustment was the lack of spring, the lack of summer, and the lack of fall. Some of our players caught COVID and so, really, the first time we were together was probably about two weeks before we officially started practice. We were behind, and that was really challenging.  


Aaron Johnston, South Dakota State Women's Basketball: All of us in athletics are somewhat creatures of habit. We like to practice a certain way, train a certain way, recover a certain way. We like the routine of what we do. When all of a sudden that routine is not a given and you're pretty much operating on a day-to-day basis, that creates a lot of stress in people's lives. 


Greg Gard, Wisconsin Men's Basketball: One of the most challenging adjustments has been understanding and navigating the mental anguish and toll that the pandemic has taken on everyone. There is a heightened sense of awareness of mental strain over the last year and how it affects all of us. 


Brenda Frese, Maryland Women's Basketball: The steps our staff made was continuing to just have our relationships, to be there for our student athletes. Every day, coming in with the same mentality, a positive attitude. This team loves to be in the gym, so finding that common ground, and also just being able to take that time to have those conversations and relationships with one another. 


Aaron Johnston, South Dakota State Women's Basketball: Our administration and our university have worked incredibly hard to create a safe, inviting atmosphere for us to play. Then as we went on the road, you could feel that the other administrations were doing the same thing to give student-athletes that opportunity to play games and do the thing that they love.  


Joe McKeown, Northwestern Women's Basketball: We did our best to try and keep a schedule each week and try to keep game days the same way that they’ve always been.  As far as routines, we made sure our student-athletes had a daily plan to follow.


Greg Gard, Wisconsin Men's Basketball: Playing in empty arenas, particularly the Kohl Center, has provided perspective on how fortunate we are and the bond we have between our team and fans. We might have taken that for granted and not having the physical presence of a crowd now makes you appreciate the energy, support and sense of home. 


Mark Turgeon, Maryland Men's Basketball: It took us a while to get used to not having our fans here. We weren't a great home team early, especially in league play, but we got better as the season went on. We really missed our fan base, but we just had to get mentally tougher.  


Brenda Frese, Maryland Women's Basketball: Your sixth man -- the fans -- aren't in the stands, so we learned through it that the joy and love that we have for this game was going to be brought by the energy, and the emotions, within our own team, and just by our team alone. 


Chris Beard, Texas Tech Men's Basketball: We always pride ourselves in a tight knit culture. Our team is a family, beginning with team retreats in the fall, activities on and off the court with coaches and without coaches. Connected teams win in March and that's certainly always our goal.  


Brenda Frese, Maryland Women's Basketball: Our team has been incredibly resilient through all the measures that have been taken for us to have a season. I couldn't be more proud of the sacrifices, and the discipline that it has taken for them -- really, all season long. 


Aaron Johnston, South Dakota State Women's Basketball: Much of what I think everybody's had to deal with, with COVID is the separation and isolation. Sometimes in our case, we've had to distance ourselves from each other as a team. When you do that, it goes against everything that we in college athletics love, which is that connection with other people, working with other people to achieve great things. 


Brenda Frese, Maryland Women's Basketball: When no one cares who gets the credit, some incredibly special things can be accomplished. This is what this team was about all season long, is that they played for one another. They cared about each other's success more than their own, and as a result of it, you saw a championship mentality. When you play for each other, some incredible, great things are going to happen for you that lies ahead. 


Greg Gard, Wisconsin Men's Basketball: I’m proud of our team and how the guys have handled an incredibly challenging and unpredictable year. The last year has given us all a greater appreciation and perspective for certain aspects of life that are easy to take for granted. Hopefully that can be a silver lining from this journey. 


Aaron Johnston, South Dakota State Women's Basketball: South Dakota State has made the absolute most out of an incredibly difficult year for our students on campus. In our athletic department, our administration has worked countless hours to provide an opportunity for all of our sports teams to have some type of a meaningful season. I'm very thankful to have such good people here at South Dakota State make that possible.