Raiders basketball roommates get break from pandemic isolation with youth camp

Raiders basketball roommates get break from pandemic isolation with youth camp

This past week’s Three Rivers Gene Bess Basketball camp featured a few dozen kids at the Libla Family Sports Complex. For current Raiders Mathias Ochai and Amadou Fall, it was the most people they’d been around since the Region XVI Tournament.

The restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic hit almost immediately after Three Rivers lost in the Region XVI semifinals. The NJCAA Tournament didn’t finish, the NCAA Tournament never started.

Three Rivers went to online-only classes, and everybody went home. The dorms emptied.

That is, except for a handful of primarily international students.

Two of them were Ochai and Fall. Both in their first year at Three Rivers, Ochai from Nigeria, and Fall from Senegal.

“It was horrible. At first, I was thinking it was a joke or something,” Ochai said. “I would just wake up, bet something to eat, and go back to bed. There was nothing to do.”

Added Fall, “For the first couple of weeks, I was depressed.”

It was March. The trees were blooming, and temperatures were rising. The spring semester was in full swing, finals around the corner. Then the dorms became a ghost town.

“It was scary. Everywhere was quiet. There was nothing even during the day,” Ochai said.

Without being able to fill their day with basketball, they resorted to what they had. Fall played video games, worked out in the apartment, and with friends on his computer.

They scrolled through TikTok and Instagram and eventually resorted to going on long walks.

One route was to go from the dorms to Walmart. People would offer the two Raider forwards on the side of the road a ride, which they politely declined.

Then Missouri entered Phase 1 of its reopening, and about a month ago, entered Phase 2.

Ochai and Fall could use the weight rooms again. Things were open, even though the dorms were still empty.

“I’m tired of seeing only Amadou’s face,” Ochai joked. “But right now, everything is dying down a little bit.”

New and current Raiders have historically been a staple at Three Rivers’ youth basketball camps in the summer. While this week’s camp didn’t allow children to stay overnight in the dorms like in previous years, the Raiders were still there.

Ochai and Fall coached the youngsters, as did Poplar Bluff’s Dominique Hardimon Jr. and Sikeston’s Kevin Jones. Incoming freshmen Lamar Wilkerson and Shannon Strickland were there, as well.

Skill levels, of course, varied. But there they were, the two guys alone in the dorms the past five months, happy to help.

“I loved it. It was a great camp,” Fall said.

“It was one of the best camps,” Ochai added. “For me, it was awesome.”


Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic