Hoopin’ at Home

How basketball’s best are staying sharp during lockdown

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The walk began like any other. Just a former MVP enjoying a beautiful Seattle day. There was nothing unusual about Breanna Stewart's stroll through Sculpture Park.

Until a fish fell from the sky.

“It was like five or ten pounds,” said the Seattle Storm superstar.

She looked around. “No way that that fish flies from the Puget Sound like 30 feet and falls like this,” she thought.

So she looked up. And there it was: “A baby bald eagle dropped it.” As mommy and daddy eagle looked on, Stewart looked down at the fish. “The head was eaten,” she said. “It looked like a baby shark almost.

“I think these things only happen when you go through a pandemic.”

Breanna Stewart puts up a layup against Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones on July 20, 2018. (Photo credit: Chris Poss)

Lately, regular existence has felt like a distant memory. Metaphorical pigs and literal fish have been flying as absurdity has replaced normalcy in seemingly every aspect of life. And basketball players are far from immune.

While many across the globe transform their homes to offices, athletes are forced to turn theirs into gyms. When it comes to fitness, it’s a manageable substitution for most. But for getting shots up? Living rooms don’t exactly become basketball courts the way conference rooms become Zoom meetings.

So how are Stewart and other ballers handling the wild times?

Staying in shape

If there's one thing that’s certain in today’s world, it's that nothing is certain. And that includes what equipment your favorite player is using to train.

Te’a Cooper?

Her house in Powder Springs, Georgia, has a weight room, complete with a bench press and an AlterG treadmill.

Breanna Stewart?

She uses cans of Red Bull.

The idea for Red Bull pushups came to Stewart when a friend sent her a video of hockey star Hilary Knight accomplishing the feat. “Are you next?” the message said.

“I’ll try,” Stewart responded. “If I fall on the ground, this is gonna be interesting.”

Stewart ruptured her Achilles tendon last April and hasn’t played in a WNBA game since. Because Stewart’s rehab facility was deemed essential by the state of Washington, she’s been able to continue rehabbing the injury there. The rest of her training, however, now takes place in her Belltown condo. The UConn legend has been incorporating dumbbells, yoga, and a Peloton she purchased just before stay-at-home orders took effect. “[I] didn’t know really where things were gonna go,” she said. “[I wanted] to have something at home [because] cardio is probably the hardest thing to replace.”

“I need to be one of the ones that is showing what it is to stay home and to help flatten this curve.”

—Breanna Stewart

One thing that won’t be hard to replace is her energy drink supply. “I’m a Red Bull athlete,” she said, “so I have plenty of spare Red Bull in my house.”

For those who prefer non-caffeinated beverages, Loyola’s Ellie Rice may have the workout tool of choice: gallon jugs of water.

Loyola sports performance coach Jenee Lange has been sending Rice and her teammates daily workout plans—like that one—that rely on little more than body weight. Princeton strength and conditioning coach Angie Brambley-Moyer is doing the same for her players using the team’s app. Tigers forward Bella Alarie sent Brambley-Moyer pictures of everything at her disposal, which included “dumbbells and some pretty simple workout supplies.” Brambley-Moyer used them to customize a routine. “She’s able to share really detailed workout plans with me, which has been really helpful,” Alarie said.

Even under the guidance of trainers and strength coaches, when it comes to home workouts, individuality reigns supreme. “Everyone pretty much has their own routine and way about living right now,” Cooper said.

For some, that routine is as important psychologically as it is physically. “You have to stay on a regimen and try to keep things as normal as possible,” Alarie said. “I try to stick to a regimen because I feel like, being in quarantine, you kind of lose a sense of time and space and you get just caught up in the day.”

Rider senior Stella Johnson is sticking to a regimen as well—one that’s tested and true. “I think [my fellow seniors] like doing their own thing, like finding stuff on YouTube, but I’ve been doing [Rider’s] workouts for four years, and they've worked,” she said. “I’m gonna keep doing them until I can find a gym.”

Stella Johnson looks to score against Niagara’s Adia Brisker in a MAAC Tournament game on March 11. The 79-74 victory was the final game of Johnson’s college career. (Photo credit: Mark Mohrman)

Of course, doing Rider workouts at home isn’t quite the same as doing Rider workouts at Rider. “My parents are home, so I’ll be working out and they’ll stick their head in and start a conversation,” Johnson said. “I’ll be like, ‘I’m working out!’ So it’s just kind of a distraction.”

Shooting

For those in the WNBA, such as Dallas Wings forward Kaela Davis, basketball is a livelihood. Shooting hoops is a skill that pays the bills. But for two weeks, she could have gone to jail for doing it. 

Local parks or driveway hoops are an option for some; for Davis—who doesn’t have a driveway hoop—park visits were off-limits. After returning to Dallas on March 30 from visiting family in Atlanta, Davis was met by state troopers as soon as she stepped off the plane. The troopers informed her of Texas’ mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for air travelers from certain cities, including Atlanta. According to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, violating the order could have landed Davis up to a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days of jail time.

Kaela Davis crosses over in a game against the Washington Mystics on Aug. 31, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

While Davis hopes to start getting shots up again now that her 14 days have passed, others may have to wait a little longer. “I haven’t had a chance to shoot a ball since our season ended,” Rice said. The junior guard has been working on ball handling from her home in Austin, Texas, but her jump shot “has been on the back burner.”

“It’s not a priority right now,” Stewart added. “We’re asking everyone to stay home and stay safe … I need to be one of the ones that is showing what it is to stay home and to help flatten this curve.” After a long injury-induced layoff, the 2018 WNBA champion is more used to it than most. “[Missing] one day or two extra days in the gym isn’t gonna kill me … I wasn’t able to be in the gym for seven months. Right now, it’s unfortunate that it has to happen like this, but there are bigger things in life going on.”

Los Angeles Sparks guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt also found herself hoopless at her mother’s house in Oxon Hill, Maryland, when shelter-in-place orders started. No longer, however—she bought and assembled a basket to use on her dead-end street. “It’s not like being in the gym,” she said, “but it’s enough space where I can get a good amount of shots up.”

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt drives against Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd on Aug. 4, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Initially, the hoop wasn't for her. “I did it for the kids at first,” she said, “but I got to a point where I’m like, ‘Alright, I need to get some shots up, I’m tired of this same boring lifting and running.’” The kids—Ruffin-Pratt’s four- and five-year-old nephews—have been her rebounders on some occasions and her defenders on others. Some of the neighborhood children have benefited from Ruffin-Pratt’s generous contribution to the street as well. “I just got it set up because kids gotta be able to get outside and do something,” she said. “They don’t wanna sit in the house and be bored.”

“I see how hard it is for teachers to get kids this age … to actually sit down and do work and get locked into doing stuff, so I have an appreciation for them doing their jobs.”

—Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

For a few seniors, the abrupt end to their careers has led them back to their childhood. Alarie grew up with a quarter court at her Bethesda, Maryland, home. Now, that court is the only place where she can keep her shot WNBA-ready. “It’s been my safe space at home since I was like four years old,” she said.

Bella Alarie and her brother, Xander, practice on the court outside of their house. (Photo courtesy of Bella Alarie)

Cooper and Johnson are also preparing for the league at home on outdoor hoops—Cooper on a half court in her yard, Johnson in her Denville, New Jersey, driveway. Johnson finds the biggest challenge of driveway shooting to be the same one she faces when working out in her house. “[When] I shoot outside, neighbors come over and say something,” she said. “There’s just like a lot of stoppage.”

Though the presence of others has been Johnson’s biggest hurdle, Cooper’s has been the lack thereof. “The toughest part [is] not being able to play against somebody [and] to not have a defense,” said the Baylor point guard.

“Seeing your parents get involved with TikTok has to be one of the funniest things out there.”

—Te’a Cooper

Among the varying obstacles shooting at home creates for players, one is constant. “The weather kind of messes it up a lot,” Cooper said.

“It’s definitely different shooting outside with the wind sometimes and leaves on the court,” Alarie added.

Staying busy

“I’ve become the babysitter, the nanny, the chef, the teacher; I’m doing all the schoolwork with my nephews and cooking breakfast every morning.”

And you thought Ruffin-Pratt was just a basketball player.

The former Tar Heel is staying with her mother, sisters, and nephews, and as the only adult in the house who isn’t working, she’s, well, working. Just not for pay. But for those who do get paid for those roles, she’s gained a new respect. “I see how hard it is for teachers to get kids this age—four and five—to actually sit down and do work and get locked into doing stuff, so I have an appreciation for them doing their jobs,” she said. “All kids wanna do is run around and play. Trying to keep them quiet while my sisters and my mom are working, it’s been a task.”

Ruffin-Pratt isn’t the only one who’s turned into a teacher in recent weeks. “Seeing your parents get involved with TikTok has to be one of the funniest things out there,” Cooper said. “Just trying to get them to learn the dance and all the bloopers you make trying to make the video right is the fun part.”

Te’a Cooper brings the ball up the floor during a Jan. 9 contest at UConn. (Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics)

TikTok has been a staple of Alarie’s down time as well. “I get sucked into the app; it’s really fun,” she said. “I don’t know how I spend so much time just watching videos on there.”

When Alarie hasn’t been training or watching TikTok videos, she’s been helping her family clean out the house. “It’s been a huge project, and it sounds so boring, but it’s been extremely satisfying,” she said. One satisfying aspect has been unearthing old gems. From middle school trophies to Duke gear from her father Mark’s playing days (which Bella jokingly refers to as “vintage”), “a lot of old basketball memories have resurfaced, which have been really fun to look at.”

For some, reading is a go-to activity. Cooper is in the middle of Shari Lepena’s “The Couple Next Door” and “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman; Jonhson’s been cozying up with poems and basketball books.

For others, video games have been a way to pass the time. Davis, who had only played Fortnite once prior to March, played with her brother “for like two days straight” before leaving Atlanta. Rice brought her Wii back from college and has been having Wii Tennis and Mario Kart tournaments with her family.

“We’re all super competitive,” she said. “Sometimes it can get super heated.”

Ellie Rice launches a three against Bowling Green on Dec. 16, 2019. (Photo credit: Steve Woltmann/Loyola Athletics)

The extra time from cancelled events has allowed many athletes to try something new. Cooper has taken up Lego building, which “is starting to get a little fun.” Rice expanded her already broad baking horizons to include bread, making a pumpkin pecan loaf for her family. For Stewart, it’s been puzzles and a virtual happy hour with her friends.

Of course, no quarantine would be complete without a little Netflix. “It was ‘Tiger King,’ because everyone said you have to watch it,” Johnson said. “[Now] it’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘One Tree Hill.’”

“Tiger King” is on the menu for Stewart as well, but it’s been a challenge. “I’m struggling with that,” she said, “but people said I just have to keep watching.” Two shows she hasn’t struggled with? “I smashed ‘All American’ [and] I crushed ‘Ozark.’”


There’s no denying that COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of virtually everyone in its path; athletes are no exception. Eventually, however, the dust will settle. Fish will stop falling from the sky, gyms and training facilities will reopen, and workout routines will return to their pre-pandemic norms. In the meantime, athletes will continue turning lockdown lemons into resilient lemonade. And when the games come back?

They’ll be ready.


Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. You can also buy Her Hoop Stats gear, such as laptop stickers, mugs, and shirts!

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