HUNTINGTON — On March 12, Marshall men’s basketball’s run at the Conference USA men’s basketball tournament came to a premature halt as COVID-19 canceled the college basketball season.
At the time, no one knew the impact the pandemic would have or even exactly how dangerous it was.
Unfortunately for Marshall senior Darius George, it didn’t take long for him to realize the dangers of the disease.
On March 24, George’s uncle Ron Hill passed away from COVID-19 in Georgia.
Hill, who was a revered coach at Mount Vernon School in Sandy Springs, Georgia, was also one of the biggest basketball influences in George’s life.
In less than two weeks, George had gone from focused on his collegiate career to moving forward without one of its biggest supporters.
“My uncle passed away due to COVID right when I got home, so that was rough on me, rough for my family, rough for my mom,” George said.
At first, basketball was difficult for George to move on and there was even thought that George may redshirt this season.
George has since used the sport as a solace for the loss in his life and turned that energy into his offseason work.
“It was rough for me, but now, I’m in a better place now where I can focus on basketball now that it’s here,” George said. “I just can’t wait for this season.”
Now, the Staunton, Virginia, native is intent on honoring his uncle the best way he knows how — on the basketball court.
“He watched all my games,” George said. “He lived in Atlanta, so he always came to all of my games at UAB, so it’ll be weird this year not having him here. I wouldn’t be playing if it wasn’t because of him. This season will be dedicated to my uncle and we’ll just see how it goes from here.”
The reality of COVID-19 is all around college sports.
There is a legitimate chance that fans will not be allowed at Cam Henderson Center for games in 2020-21.
At best, it seems there will be a severely limited capacity for contests.
For players, masks are worn during conditioning drills and the safety precautions are extensive.
“Having the masks has been rough, but it’s something we need to do,” George said.
The team already had to take a two-week pause in workouts and the start of its practice due to a positive case within the team and contact tracing, which pushed their start date back to Oct. 20.
As George gets set for his fourth year with the program, expectations for the team are as high as they have been.
The team returns 95 percent of the scoring from last season’s lineup and has added pieces that can factor in as well.
Marshall is looking to do something special, but George know that the team can’t lose focus of its battle against COVID-19 — both for their own health and the team’s success in 2020-21.
“COVID is real,” George said. “It’s scary. We just have to be safe and do our precautions. We have to focus on the bigger picture and basketball because that can all go at any second.”