Pascal Siakam has watched the number of COVID-19 cases climb in the United States, particularly in Florida, where the Toronto Raptors convened more than a week ago.
But the Raptors forward feels that, with the team carefully following the NBA coronavirus protocols, he and his teammates are as safe there as they would be anywhere.
“Obviously Florida is one of [the U.S. states] that’s pretty high at the moment, but… the team has been doing a fantastic job in terms of making sure we’re kind of isolated,” Siakam said Friday during a videoconference. “Obviously, you’re kind of scared seeing the cases rise but you trust the team’s going to do everything, the NBA is going to do everything to make sure we’re safe.”
Because of Canadian guidelines that required people arriving from out of country to self-isolate for two weeks, the Raptors went to Naples, Fla., to prepare for the July 30 season restart. Toronto and the 21 other teams in the restart will centralize at Disney World in Orlando between next Tuesday and Thursday.
Longest break in career
The NBA chose Florida before COVID-19 exploded in that state. There were nearly 9,500 new cases of the virus Friday, a day after topping a record-10,000 new cases.
“But at the end of the day, even being home and going to the grocery store is not that safe,” Siakam said. “So we’ve just got to do everything, do our best in making sure we have everything in place for us to be as safe as possible and hopefully we get the season back and it goes as smoothly as possible.”
Siakam, who was averaging a career-high 23.6 points a night when the season shut down March 11, figures he went three months without playing or even shooting a basketball, his longest break since taking up the game in high school.
Since the Raptors all went to their various homes during the coronavirus lockdown, the 26-year-old forward said it was great to finally see his teammates last week.
“It kind of feels like training camp again and the beginning of the season, you’re excited seeing guys and playing on the floor and stuff,” he said.
The Raptors are still limited to four players on the court at once, each shooting on their own basket. They’ll resume normal practice when they move to Disney World next week. They could be there for up to three months if they have another long post-season run.
Anunoby says Raptors can adapt
It’s an unprecedented situation, but one OG Anunoby believes the Raptors can adapt to.
“I think we’re all going through the same thing, so we’ll all just adjust as it goes on,” he said. “It may be uncomfortable at first but we know these are the circumstances you have to deal with right now. I think yeah, we’ll just figure it out as we go.”
The six-foot-nine Anunoby was having a terrific season when the coronavirus brought the sports world to its knees. He’d been looking forward to the post-season after missing last year’s championship run — he had his appendix removed right before the playoffs tipped off.
“I wish I could have played, but now I can this year,” he said. “So yeah, I’ll use it as motivation and hopefully play well, [and hope] we reach all our goals.”
Anunoby said he spent the three-month break working on shooting, handling the ball and passing. He also spent of a lot of time getting stronger in the weight room.
He didn’t pick up any new hobbies during the down time, but has enjoyed doing his own cooking.
What’s his favourite meal to cook?
“Depends what I’m trying to eat for dinner,” he deadpanned, before adding his favourite meal is shrimp linguine.
But the NBA plans to make social and racial justice a theme of the restart, and Anunoby said the players can have an impact.
“I think just spreading awareness, letting people know what’s going on… speaking up, people are doing stuff in their cities and their states,” he said. “So just using our platform.”
The Raptors, who were second in the Eastern Conference when the season shut down, will face the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 1 in their first of eight seeding-round games.