One year ago, COVID-19 changed the sports world -- a look back

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- We've already seen more post-season college basketball this year than we did in 2020.

One year ago, the ACC Tournament was shuttered the Thursday morning before the quarterfinals during a wave of cancellations that rocked the country.

It was in Utah the previous night where COVID-19 got real. Two Utah Jazz players, including Rudy Gobert, tested positive, forcing the NBA to cancel that night's game amid concern and confusion from players and fans alike.

Just the day before, Gobert mocked the illness by touching and pretending to lick the microphones at a news conference.

Hours after that first postponement, the NBA suspended the season, tripping a domino effect that would ripple from league to league. From the pros to the pewees, hoops to hockey.

"It just felt a little surreal," Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I remember we were in New Jersey ... and basketball got canceled that night, and then it was just kind of like, 'what is going on,' and then just the dominos started falling everywhere."

Virginia forced to withdraw from ACC Tournament after a positive COVID-19 test

The N.C. State women's basketball team had just cut down the nets in Greensboro after winning the ACC Tournament and were national title contenders when it all came crashing down.

"It all happened so quick, you know, going from literally top-of-the-world feeling to feeling like you have no idea what's about to happen next," said Wolfpack center Elissa Cunane.

One by one, leagues and programs were shut down. Players sent home. The Wolfpack ladies were about to start practice when ...

"We were on the court and everyone was like, well guys everything is canceled," Cunane said. "And we were all just kind of like, 'what?' Like, we're here at practice, can we at least get some shots up or something, and Coach (Wes) Moore is like, no you guys have got to go home."

North Carolina baseball coach Scott Forbes shared his recollection of those surreal days and how his team's season ended before it began.

"We talk about it all the time, the season ended so fast we didn't even get together," Forbes said. "We thought our guys would go home for a couple of days. We'd have them back here, the season would start back. Because of COVID and everything going on, we never even had a, quote, team meeting."

Duke drops out of ACC Tournament after positivie COVID-19 test

With the nation under quarantine, the focus for coaches shifted to the safety and mental health of players. Connections happened only through FaceTime and Zoom.

Athletics around the world took a back seat to survival and sacrifice.

"It's tough stuff. And there's some hungry people out there, and there's people without jobs, and some of our parents of our players have lost their jobs and it's hard for the families to feed their kids," North Carolina football coach Mack Brown said.

Teamwork transitioned into community service. But eventually, the games returned with a slew of safety protocols. Now, slowly, fans are returning, too.

"It makes you miss the old days and look forward to the future when you have fans back in the stands," said Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Our sport won't be back completely until you have fans because there's an intimacy there in our game."

Time will tell what between the lines has changed for good. Surely, perspective for many sports fans has been altered forever.
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