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Former CMU basketball stars discuss impact of coronavirus while playing internationally


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Senior forward Reyna Frost waits to take a free throw against Buffalo on Feb. 2 in McGuirk Arena.

Reyna Frost was stuck in Italy.

The former Central Michigan women's basketball star received news of Italy's nationwide lockdown while preparing for a road game. Coinciding with the lockdown, her first season with Italian club Associzione Sportiva Dilettantistica Basket Costa came to an abrupt end.

The spread of coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill. Universities have transitioned to online-only classes, gatherings of more than 10 people have been canceled and sports in the United States have been completely shut down. People in Italy, where Frost was, have been confined to their homes. 

Though she was making arrangements to travel back to her hometown of Reese, Michigan, she encountered difficulties in doing so. Her teammates banded together to help her eventually get out, however, not before she spent three days in locked down Italy.

"It was a hard three days because I would gain hope that I was going home but then the plan of the flights we had fell through," Frost said. "It was crazy to be in, and I feel for Italy. We did go to the store one time and only 20 people were allowed inside, and we had to stand in a line outside but stand far apart."

Eventually, Frost was able to get back home to her family. She's currently quarantining in hopes of not spreading or contracting COVID-19. Frost and her mother called the local hospital upon returning to see if testing was necessary. Medical professionals determined against a test because she lacked symptoms.

"At this point, I think everyone should try to stay home as much as possible," Frost said. "My younger siblings stayed away while school was still going on, and I still haven't seen my little brother because he goes to work and doesn't want to risk it so he's staying with my grandparents a bit. 

"My family wants to make sure we do our part to not spread it."

Before the outbreak in Italy, Frost was basking in the experience of living in a new country. As a first time professional, life away from home was difficult. Throw in the fact that Frost was overseas, and it made for a bit of a mental struggle at times.

"There are a lot more practices but being thousands of miles away from my entire support group was the hardest thing for me," Frost says. "I was blessed to play in a beautiful country and see things I wouldn't see in Michigan, but I was homesick and it made it difficult to play basketball at times when all I wanted was to see the people I love."

Despite being so far from Mount Pleasant, Frost followed her alma mater as much as she could. Having spent four seasons with Heather Oesterle, Frost said she was proud of the first-year head coach's ability to sustain the program's success. 

"I'm so proud of her and the team," Frost said. "It was awesome to see her develop the players. I saw a different kind of confidence from a lot of the players like Maddy (Watters), Gabi (Bird) and Kyra (Bussell). (Micaela) Twin (Kelly) killed it this season. I'm just so excited to watch them next season and see what they can do."

Frost is thankful for her experience in Italy but is unsure if the league will start back up. She has seen the effects that COVID-19 has on society and knows precautionary measures should be taken, even if they are unpopular. 

"I witnessed what is happening over there," Frost said. "It is serious, clearly as the news shows, but I know people over there and they're all very kind people. I pray the families I know and the rest of the nation gets the strength to endure through this." 

'It's the right thing to do'

Junior Marcus Keene shoots over a Toledo defender on Jan. 13 in McGuirk Arena.

When Marcus Keene took the floor for his game on March 19, he knew it would be his last time doing so for two weeks. 

His team, the Yulon Luxgen of the Taiwanese Super Basketball League, was informed before the game that the league would be shut down for the following two weeks due to concerns regarding the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Keene scored a game-high 32 points and added 12 assists in the game, a 104-96 win over Pauian. 

The SBL is the highest level of semi-professional basketball in Taiwan and just recently shut down, unlike its counterparts in America. Thursday marks the two-week anniversary of the day that the NBA, MLB, all NCAA-related events and other professional sports were halted for the foreseeable future.

"It's the right thing to do," Keene said of the sports shutdown. "It's about the safety of people's health more than anything. It sucks, but until stuff gets better, we have to do that."

Keene will remain in Taiwan, as his team still plans to hold practices. His daughter, Alani, is in the United States with her mother. Keene said his family is doing everything possible keep her safe. 

"She either goes to my mother's house or stays with her mother," he said. "That's it."

Keene is currently the SBL's second-leading scorer, averaging 24.5 points per game, and is the reigning player of the week following a two-game stretch in which he averaged 35.5 points. The former Chippewa leads the league with four player of the week awards. 

At 13-9, Yulon Luxgen sits in second place in the league standings behind only Taiwan Beer at 16-5 overall.

Senior guard Braylon Rayson steps back against the defense during the game against Green Bay on Dec. 6 at McGuirk Arena.

Fighting the fear

Braylon Rayson thought it was scary. 

Rayson, who was playing for the Sudbury Five of Canada's National Basketball League, was rushing home as the national borders were closing. 

His season came to an abrupt end on March 13, and Rayson was just trying to get back to his comfort zone.

"It was scary," Rayson said, "being rushed home because the borders were closing and flights were minimum, (while also) knowing that the airport was the most dangerous place to be on Earth at the moment."

Rayson had been coming off a week in which he averaged 45 points. For the season as a whole, Rayson was having an MVP-caliber season and leading his team in search of its first championship. 

"(It was) sad, we (were) getting into a groove," Rayson said. "I averaged 45 for a week and then boom, season canceled. No more games, no more money, gotta fly back home and risk getting sick and taking that sickness to my family. Luckily I took proper precautions and stayed healthy, hopefully, everybody does the same." 

Being away from his family is the toughest challenge that Rayson faces playing internationally. However, he ranks his COVID-19 experience a close second. For him, many difficulties come in life without basketball. 

"Sitting home right now and not being able to have income coming in and still having bills to pay is the hardest pill to swallow during this virus outbreak," he said. "Hopefully (President Donald) Trump figures it out and shuts down all bills and gives us enough money to get groceries to support our family and kids." 

Rayson and Keene keep in touch daily, both missing their playing days. But for now, it can be universally agreed upon that, without basketball, their focus is on the future. The hope is that each of these three can return to their playing careers that have been put on pause.

When that day comes is anyone's guess. 

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