BUFORD — Gene Durden has led the Buford girls basketball team to eight state championships in his tenure off Buford Highway.
But none of those may give him as much excitement as Tuesday night’s regular season clash with Stephens County at The Buford Arena. And for good reason.
The Lady Wolves (5-0) have not played a game in 35 days. Not since beating Parkview 69-58 on Dec. 1 in Lilburn have they laced up against live competition.
There was an obvious theme when discussing what has been one of the most trying times for Durden and his program. COVID-19 contract-tracing within the program on several occasions caused them to not even be able to practice for nearly three weeks.
“Just crazy,” he said. Crazy, crazy. I’ve been doing this a long time. During a season I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than three days without practicing, even during holiday periods. We couldn’t practice for 18 days. It was just so frustrating. Beyond crazy, really.
“I can’t wait for Tuesday. The girls can’t wait. I don’t know if it’s more exciting than a state championship game but I’m not sure I’ve looked more forward to just playing a game as I have been for this one. This has been the longest month I think I’ve ever experienced during a season. We finally have all the kids back and everyone is good -- knock on wood.”
Buford is not the only program forced to sit due to coronavirus issues. But none that had not opted out of the season altogether, at least not in the northeast Georgia area, have had to endure what the Lady Wolves have experienced. The entire program was basically shut down during the 18 days as numerous players and coaches had to quarantine.
“Our first shutdown was for 10 days then that got extended to three weeks,” Durden said. “Coaches all the time preach to players to just control what you can control. The biggest thing was not being able to control some of the things you normally can control, like contract tracing of those who were not really sick. That was very frustrating but just part of what we have to deal with right now.”
But the Lady Wolves finally were cleared to begin basketball activities again back on Dec. 19 and they are playing serious catch-up, according to Durden.
“It took some time just for the girls to get back in playing shape,” he said. “We lost seven games but we’re also hoping to get five of them, most of them region games, rescheduled here soon. Hopefully those will be the only ones we have to deal with the rest of the way.”
So, what is Durden expecting to see from his squad?
“Since we’ve only played a few games we still have a lot of questions about a lot of things,” he said. “It’s really like we’re back to say the first couple of weeks of the season. It’s going to take us a couple of weeks probably to work out some of those things we would already know at this point.
“I’m just looking for us to get some of our timing back and just competing out on the court again. Our goal is just to really take this one day at a time and hopefully to be ready for the region tournament, if the season gets that far. Other than that, with the way this season has gone so far, I’m not sure I can expect any more than that.
“It’s all just so crazy right now -- for everyone, not just us.”