Chip Scoggins
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Richard Pitino hopped in his car Saturday still revved up emotionally after one of the best victories in his tenure as Gophers basketball coach. He drove from Williams Arena to watch his daughter play in her basketball tournament.

He was just a dad in that gym, watching and cheering, still emotional.

"I'm almost brought to tears a little bit because she's running up and down the court with a mask on at 9 years old," he said. "She's got it fully covered, and she's trying to follow all the rules, and it is heartbreaking. It's just heartbreaking for everybody."

Not heartbreaking because of the mask requirement but just everything. All of it.

The local basketball scene saw reminders everywhere over the weekend of the grip the pandemic still holds on our lives, and the range of emotions that it stokes inside us.

A few high school teams had their season openers postponed because of positive tests. Those kids had waited since last March to play a game, only to get news that they had to wait longer.

A day after Pitino's team upset Michigan, the Gophers learned that Wednesday's game at Nebraska was off because of an outbreak inside the Cornhuskers program.

On Monday, the Timberwolves played a matinee game in Atlanta without three players, including Karl-Anthony Towns, who announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus. That news felt especially somber because of everything Towns already has endured, having lost his mother and six relatives to COVID-19.

The Wolves returned to action after one postponement, and it was impossible to watch that game and not think about Towns and hope that he is doing OK, not just physically but also emotionally. The sadness he carries must be unfathomable.

In normal times, sports provide an outlet for us to detach from things weighing heavy on our hearts and minds. That's not always possible anymore because that buffer is gone. There is no detaching sports from the pandemic.

Yet I continuously marvel at people's resilience. We have found more of it through this struggle — a lot more — along with more patience and perspective. It's hard not to mope or be angry sometimes or become self-absorbed with new inconveniences, but in those moments, you realize that others have it worse. Keep it all in perspective, I remind myself.

It's OK to wish for some normalcy too, right?

Williams Arena should have been rocking Saturday. Remember those days? A Saturday afternoon game in January against a Top-10 opponent. Imagine how electric the Barn would have felt as the Gophers threw their best punch at Michigan.

Instead, it was mostly silent, except for a few family members of coaches and players who were allowed to watch in person.

Pitino admits feeling a little emptiness an hour or so before tipoff when the Barn is quiet. It stinks that fans can't be there, especially this season with potentially the best team in Pitino's time in Minnesota.

He constantly reminds his players that every game they get to play is a gift. Never take that for granted, he tells them, because "this thing could flip quickly."

It flipped on them with the Nebraska game being postponed. And it flipped for some high school teams anxiously awaiting their first game after a long hiatus. One of those was the South St. Paul girls team, which had to cancel this past Friday because of two positive tests in the program.

The players were crushed. Their coach, Austin Junker, gathered every girl in the program for a Zoom chat. They talked about resiliency and being there for each other. The conversation lifted their spirits, including their coach's.

They are thankful to have a game Tuesday.

"This isn't anyone's fault that we're living through this," Junker said.

Friday night, I got to watch my youngest play his first basketball game of the season. Initially, I didn't agree with the decision to make kids wear masks while playing sports. But as I watched those ninth-graders get to play again, and the joy they showed being on the court competing, I forgot about them wearing masks.

That felt like a victory. Being there felt like a gift.