The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many things in the sports world, including the experiences of those just having made it to a higher level of play.
Amongst those, is the first-year experience of U Sports athletes, who were looking to take their new settings by storm.
One of those athletes is University of Toronto’s first-year guard Aleer Aleer-Leek, whose transition to university level basketball hasn’t been easy with little room for human interaction on and off the court.
“When I touched down in September, it was still kind of difficult to really find the complete team dynamic and figure guys out,” said Aleer-Leek. “There wasn’t any real obstacles or anything for you to really kind of find out how guys are and team character and all that type of stuff.”
While he does have good relationships with his teammates, his opportunities to bond with teammates are lesser than those who live together, while he’s at home with family.
Amongst those difficulties, has also been finding his way academically through Zoom courses. With the dynamic being completely different from a normal classroom setting, interaction and support from classmates has come few and far between.
“Sometimes you go in those (breakout) rooms and people don’t even want to speak,” said the Scarborough native. “It’s really been awkward, it feels like it’s just me, my screen, and the teacher.”
“It doesn’t feel like I have classmates. Everything I’ve been doing is by myself, which I’m really not used to. A big part of my (past) success in the classroom was because I’ve had classmates who were willing to work with me and help me.”
Hopes for what could have been and moving forward
Fresh off an Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association championship appearance and having committed April 10th, he had high hopes to help elevate a program that missed the playoffs in the 2019-2020 season and has not made it past the OUA quarter-finals since the 1996-1997 season.
Despite the OUA cancelling the fall sports season on June 8 there was hope for at least a potential delayed start to the basketball season with the government having eased restrictions.
“It was looking good, gyms started opening up, I started getting in the gym with a lot of my teammates,” he said. “We were going at it the whole summer in the gym. We were pretty optimistic that the season was going to start.”
Those plans came to a halt when U Sports cancelled its winter championships, followed by the OUA cancelling the winter sports season on October 15.
Aleer-Leek was in the library with his teammates when he found out the OUA was soon to come to a decision. Despite having a feeling that the season would be cancelled due to COVID-19 cases rising in Ontario at the time, it didn’t help the way he felt about it.
“I’m a rookie, I touched down, I’m excited, I want to hoop, and it just really hurt that I have to wait a whole year (to play again),” he said. “It really hurt.”
With a decision still to come regarding the 2021-2022 season, Aleer-Leek remains hopeful and optimistic for the upcoming year where he hopes to achieve what he set out to do in the 2020-2021 season – making it to the all-rookie team, helping the Blues win games, and changing the culture.
“For me to not be able to actually go out and do those things, it eats me up inside. Moving forward, the goals remain the same,” said Aleer-Leek. “It’s just a pause right now, we’re going to get to that point.”