Andre Gould sat in the driver seat of a white Ford Explorer late Thursday afternoon. The door to that SUV was wide open, as the longtime coach of the Winston-Salem Prep boys basketball team conversed with his two seniors and a group of assistants — all donning an assortment of leisurely gym clothes.
It was anything but a typical practice for the Phoenix. A group, including Gould, gathered at the back concrete steps at Green-Moore Gymnasium near Cameron Avenue. On the inside of those few sets of black double doors, another cluster of players — including junior Anthony Sellars — mulled around the court. The echoes of a ball bouncing on the hardwood was in earshot, even from those back steps.
Winston-Salem Prep, a second seed in the West Region, should've been training to face No. 6 Henderson Collegiate in the NCHSAA Class 1-A championship on Saturday at N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum. The Phoenix was trying to claiming a sixth state title since 2008.
The NCHSAA earlier in the afternoon announced that the eight basketball championships in Raleigh and Chapel Hill would be indefinitely suspended because of growing concern over the spread of novel coronavirus in North Carolina. In a subsequent move, spring sports — practices, games, even skill development — were suspended until "at least" April 6, according to a statement. The practice for the Phoenix was one of two final meetings before their roughly three-week hiatus.
"They've done well, considering the circumstances," Gould said. "... I guess we're still trying to hold out hope, but we're kind of in a limbo. Me, personally, I just wish the state would make a final call.
"Then we'll have some true closure. Again, I'm not knocking Que Tucker (the NCHSAA commissioner). … Sixteen teams and everybody wants a chance but, sometimes, history prevents that."
Gould shared a few laughs with that group on the stairs. Stephen Minor, the lone senior captain, leaned against a metal railing. But talk of playing for a state title, which began during summer workouts in mid-June, was now up in the air.
"It hurts a whole lot more because we're seniors," said Minor, standing next to fellow senior D'Angelo Lavalais in the gym. "Ever since that day we'd been talking about a state championship. … We went through so many, what we call them, 'come to Jesus' moments this year as a team.
"And then, we finally started clicking at the right time and getting it together. All of a sudden, now, everything that happened today — it just feels like a dream."
A halt to the state title games was quite an alteration from the previous move announced by the NCHSAA just a few hours earlier. Attendance would have been be limited to only "essential staff" — up to 35 people, players and assistants included — along with 50 family members per team.
Gould and the team held meetings for both of the NCHSAA's decisions during the day. Minor was at the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools' Career Center when the second ruling was announced. He learned about the decision through a group message from the team.
Lavalais said he "fell in his seat." Despite averaging just two points, the 6-foot-3 forward felt it was his season. According to Lavalais, an enlarged heart cut short his junior season, his first on varsity.
"In the beginning of the season, I didn't get in. Then I started proving myself, and got in," Lavalais said. "For me to get this far, and not play the state championship game, hurts. All my hard work, all my effort — everything I put myself into this season — just, it's like it's on pause.
"And I don't know if we're going to keep going, or if it's just the end."