HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It wasn't Clinton Gymnasium but for the William Carey Crusaders, it didn't matter. It was basketball.
"Man it feels real good just to get back here," Carey senior wing Leo Garrett said Wednesday during the team's first practice following the tornado that swept through the area. "Being able to play the game that you love again after what happened."
This feel good vibe is felt along the sidelines as well.
"Each and every one of them have their own story about what happened," Crusaders coach Steve Knight said. "As individuals, we just have to pull together as a collective group and overcome any obstacles that we have and I think they're excited about being able to do that."
The tornado that heavily damaged the William Carey campus, including the school's home gym. For the time being the team will hold practice at Hattiesburg High (the women are holding workouts at the Payne Center on the campus of Southern Miss)
No final plans have been made yet for home games but Jones County Junior College and Pearl River Community College are strong options. There are scheduling conflicts with USM but Knight said he wants to play at least one game at Reed Green Coliseum.
A revamped slate should be released soon.
"I think they're just ready to play," Knight said. "Sometimes with a guy if you just give them a bed to sleep in and a hot meal. Nowadays if you give them some Wi-Fi with a phone they're pretty happy. So I think basketball, they've put so much into this that they just want to get out here and represent our institution."
While they look for some normalcy with the round ball, Knight and his players can't escape the reality of the tornado's impact.
"It was terrible," Garrett said. "I have an apartment off campus so I really didn't know what was going on because it really didn't affect me. But when I made it over to the school and seen the gm and everything was tore up I just knew my season might be over with so didn't feel too good about that. It's a good thing were back at it"
Knight has been a part of the Carey community for over thirty years.
"It's difficult particularly for us long time employees," Knight said. "I've been there for thirty-five years and just a lot of memories when you walk in our gym and see the shape that it's in."
The group of Carey students who Knight most feels for are the seniors.
"They've put three and a half years or some longer than that (and are) ready to walk that stage and it's been disrupted," he said. "I know all of them are really concerned about that. But we're going to give them that opportunity. I think we're going to get everything up and running. They'll have that opportunity to go on and finish."
And finish is what the Crusaders will do. No matter the gym.
"We're not going to make any excuses," Knight said. "We're going out to win some ball games."
Added Garrett,"It's just the same thing. We're just playing basketball no matter what gym."