A week after Christopher Newport bounced his Colby College men’s basketball team from the NCAA Division III tournament, the coronavirus pandemic ousted Noah Tyson and the rest of the Mules from their dorms.
Now Tyson’s unconventional solution to an uncertain future means he might not be back on the Waterville, Maine campus for close to 18 months.
The former Free Press Mr. Basketball is taking a gap year — one of three players on his team to do so, he said.
Tyson’s commitment to the game and his school hasn’t wavered. But when the former Rutland High School standout began to grasp the toll of COVID-19 on college life and the prospects for the coming hoops season, he saw what would be his third year at Colby in a different light.
“I didn’t really understand the severity and how it’s going to affect academics and athletics,” Tyson, 20, said last week.
The school’s $10 million back-to-school safety strategy, comprehensive as it is with plans for roughly 85,000 COVID-19 tests during the fall semester, only reinforced that.
No visitors, no traveling, significant alterations to daily life — limited social gatherings, mandatory mask usage — and potentially no varsity sports competition didn’t sound like the experience Tyson cherished.
During the summer, Colby asked students planning to attend to sign a social contract agreeing to above sacrifices and more. Remote learning was another option, but Tyson knew from the spring semester that wasn’t for him either.
“I never really got used to being online,” said the economics major. “I’ve grown to love the environment of Colby, what it provides me.”
Luckily, a third option materialized for Tyson, who has started every game in his two years at Colby and was named the NESCAC rookie of the year in 2019.
His roommate and teammate, Matt Hanna, floated the idea of joining him as an intern with Venture Basketball in Charlotte, North Carolina. The outfit, run by Blake Boehringer, works with players of varying skill levels — including professionals.
Tyson was already considering a career as a basketball coach or trainer. The chance to gain first-hand experience with aspiring pros — and hone his own game on the side — turned the situation into a study-abroad setting as much as a sabbatical.
“It’s potentially a huge opportunity and something I wouldn’t want to pass up,” Tyson said.
His mom, Castleton University athletic director Deanna Tyson, saw the merits of the plan as well. Convincing her might’ve been easier than Tyson selling himself on being away from Colby for so long.
“She wanted me to do something that was going to benefit me in the future,” he said.
And, crucially, Tyson’s college coaches have backed him and his teammates 100 percent, he said.
Attending Colby and playing in whatever form takes shape this year would’ve cost Tyson one of his four years of eligibility — and that at a school that almost never grants a fifth year, he said.
Lengthy, “heart-to-heart” conversations with his head coach, Damien Strahorn, and assistants, got everyone on the same page. Tyson and the other players not on campus are still held accountable, included in team meetings and workout plans.
“They’re doing their part to make sure we’re still a part of the team, in touch with everybody,” Tyson said. “Their biggest thing was making sure guys taking a gap year are being productive with it, not just hanging out at home, making sure they’re staying active and taking care of themselves.”
Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.
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