TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Mike Martin Jr. has spent 23 years as a baseball coach at his alma mater, including the last nine months as the Seminoles’ head coach.
In all that time, he’d never experienced anything quite like he did late last week, when he walked into the Florida State clubhouse and told his team that they likely wouldn’t be playing again this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martin Jr. was far from alone. Since last Wednesday, when the NBA announced the suspension of its season, seemingly every corner of organized sports around the world has canceled or postponed its scheduled events.
But that didn’t make the news any easier to take for the Seminoles, who were just 17 games into their campaign, and who just days before had celebrated a victory at rival Florida.
“It was the most difficult (challenge) in my time, in all my years,” Martin Jr. said via teleconference on Wednesday morning. “Because the guys thought that was it. Some guys were bawling their eyes out in the clubhouse, because they thought they weren’t going to put the uniform on again.”
That fear has since been relieved. The NCAA announced it would implement measures allowing student-athletes from spring sports to maintain a year of eligibility.
How exactly that will work – in regard to scholarship limits, funding and incoming signing classes, among other things – has yet to be determined.
“There’s so many questions still to be answered,” he said.
Martin is anxious to, as he put it, “put the band back together,” as soon as possible.
But he also can’t help but be disappointed in the way his first season at the helm came to a halt.
FSU holds a 12-5 record, a No. 13 national ranking and recently dealt top-ranked UF its first defeat of the season.
More than that, though, as the Seminoles rounded the quarter-pole of their season, Martin felt like his team was beginning to round into form and was excited to see where the next few weeks and months would lead.
“We were definitely playing better,” Martin said. “It is a shame, because some guys were starting to turn a corner and gain some confidence.”
Leonard Hamilton can share in that pain.
Just a week ago, Hamilton’s fourth-ranked FSU men’s basketball team was holding practice in Greensboro, N.C., and preparing to begin the ACC tournament as the bracket’s No. 1 overall seed.
A high seed in the NCAA tournament, and a potential run to the Final Four, seemed certain.
But in a few hours on a surreal Thursday morning, that all came to end.
The ACC had announced on Wednesday that it would play in an empty arena as a safety precaution, and, just two hours before FSU was due to tip off against Clemson, reiterated its commitment to that plan.
By 12:15 p.m., as the Seminoles went through their layup lines, the tournament had been canceled outright.
The NCAA tournament followed suit a few hours later, and, in a little more than the amount of time it takes to play a college basketball game, the Seminoles’ season was over.
It was a bitter pill for players, coaches and hoops fans across the country. But for the Seminoles, in the midst of their best season in nearly 50 years, it might have hit even harder.
“Obviously we were all disappointed,” Hamilton said. “But you can’t worry about things that you have no control over. So, we accepted it for what it was and realized it was the best decision to be made.
“So, our guys just want to follow directions and see what we do from here.”
That’s a common sentiment.
Martin said that Florida State’s coaches are all part of a big text message group, and that they’ll often share information and ideas for how to be productive while things are otherwise at a standstill.
And there’s plenty of encouragement and good vibes, particularly for the teams whose seasons were either canceled or cut short.
It’s such a weird time,” Martin said.
Even with no games or practices, they’re all keeping busy.
Martin shared that the team’s strength coach, Jamie Burleson, devised a regimen of body-weight workouts for the players, so that they could maintain their fitness while gyms were closed.
And Hamilton said that he and his staff are constantly staying in touch with their players, lending their insights and support in every way that they can.
“We’re always communicating with our guys and staying on top of things,” he said.
Which is helpful given that, like the rest of the planet, the Seminoles are doing their best to navigate a world that all of a sudden looks a lot different than it did a week or two ago.
And they have to do it, in some cases, apart – physically, at least – from their biggest support group: each other.
Latest updates recommend no gatherings of more than 10 people, which applies to locker rooms and clubhouses.
Like everyone else, the Seminoles are looking forward to the day that it’s over.
“The fact that things are so uncertain, yeah they’re nervous,” Martin said about his team. “At the same time, they enjoy each other’s company.
“It’s a sad, nervous feeling. I think that’s kind of the way most everybody is. Any time there’s uncertainty, it makes you uncomfortable. Hopefully we can get this thing under control and get back to rolling.”