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Local AAU team unable to practice, but still preparing for big travel ball tournaments

Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 7:52 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG) -The pandemic is affecting local athletes in so many ways, and those who coach in and play AAU travel basketball are certainly not exempt! Summer is a big time for the coaches and players invovled in AAU travel ball. Among the locally based AAU teams is the Gulf Coast Thunder, led by Bay High head coach Rusty Cook, with coach coaching both 17U and 15U teams.This summer's 17U Thunder team made up of the likes of Tavarius Lilly and Rustin Cook of Bay. Malik Stovall and Kaison Lundy of Rutherford. Mosley's Chase McCarter and South Walton's Barrett Waldrop. That just part of the roster.

The team ordinarily plays in a handful of out of town tournaments, and is still hoping to hit upcoming events in Tallahassee and Atlanta. One big problem...with the local high school gyms closed to them, well there's no place for the team to work out these days!

"It is tough because we do this for the kids for the kids to get exposure." coach Cook told us. "When we go to big events in Atlanta we're playing against teams that are put together from all over the country. And we are just a local team, so it's important that we practice and prepare. That way when we do go to those places and the kids get exposure, they're ready. So that's been a tough part trying to get them ready and all of the logistics to go to those big tournaments."

The coach says though for now, the plan is to travel and play in those tournaments, it's more important to play, even if they players are a bit rusty.

“Yeah someone asked me y’all are going to play in a tournament practicing? Well practice is not important at this point.” coach Cook said. “The kids being able to play, they love basketball, it’s something that they love. Just for them to be able to do that is so important to me some sense of normal for them. I think some people don’t look at sports as important, but it’s important for them, just to be able to go out and do something they love. So many things have been taken away, especially Here in our city the past two years, so yes. We do this for them, if they have to play in a tournament with no practice fine will do that. It’s for them anyway.”

Why so dedicated to the cause, you may ask, given so many obstacles? That’s an easy one to answer for the coach.

"It's a struggle because every year it's some kid's last year in our program." coach Cook said. "And through the hurricane a lot of kids missed out on their last summer, travel AAU season. And now with the virus you have another whole class of kids that's missing out on their last travel season. That's the hard part for me. All the logistics of it is one thing. But knowing the kids are missing out, that's a tough one for me. Because this is stuff that can help them get into college. But also make memories that they'll remember for the rest of their lives. And they're going to miss out on that."

Fundraising has also been hurt by the effects of the pandemic. The tournament in Atlanta is set to start Friday July 31st, the event in Tallahassee set for is the following weekend. Let’s hope these players don’t have to miss out on either of these tournaments.

Copyright 2020 WJHG. All rights reserved.

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