ROCK HILL, S.C. Chandler Vaudrin is a man in search of a gym with an open door.
The former Lake High School standout is now a junior at Winthrop University, a place he transferred two after two years playing close to home at Division II Walsh University and sitting out one season under NCAA transfer rules. He headed to Winthrop with one goal in mind and as of the championship game of the Big South tournament, he believed he'd achieved that goal.
All of that changed four short days later when the news came down that the NCAA tournament, to which his team had just earned an automatic bid, wouldn't be played due to the growing COVID-19 crisis.
"It was a lot to deal with to be honest ... I had always dreamed of going to play in the NCAA tournament and when won that Sunday (in the conference title game), it was amazing," Vaudrin said. "I was really excited and I had lots of friends and family around me for the championship game. To cut the nets down was awesome."
That feeling was what the 6-foot-7 junior guard had in mind when he decided to transfer to Winthrop even though doing so meant sitting out a season. His success and all-around game displayed at Walsh convinced him that it was time to make the move and when he looked for a landing spot, he singled in on a Winthrop program that has been to the NCAA tournament regularly in recent years, becoming one of the most frequent mid-major programs to earn a bid to March Madness.
When he arrived in Rock Hill, he recalled, head coach Pat Kelsey literally tossed him a basketball and told him that this was his team now, a mandate Vaudrin has taken to heart. He averaged 9.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game in his first season for Winthrop, helping his new team to a 24-10 record and a convincing run through the conference tournament.
That set the stage for a scene that he, his teammates and dozens of men's and women's college basketball teams across America experienced when the NCAA canceled its postseason tournaments. Those affected included former Federal League rivals such as Ohio State junior and former Jackson standout Kyle Young, and left all involved grappling with how to handle what was transpiring.
"We got back to practice and we heard the news Thursday after practice when we had a team meeting," Vaudrin said. "It was disheartening with all work we put in all year long, but as weeks have gone by since then, I've realized this is about a lot more than basketball ... it's a real world problem and it was the right decision as much as it's frustrating."
Since then, he's heard from a lot of friends, family members and others who have called or texted and talked about what he and his teammates are going through. Unlike many of his teammates, who headed home once news came down that the school would transition to online-only classes for the rest of the semester, Vaudrin remained in Rock Hill largely because he knew that back home in Ohio, all of the gyms where he might be able to go and shoot were closed, while the Winthrop gym remained open.
It has since closed, leaving him in search of a place to get shots up and continue working, and he admits that if he found out there was a gym back home where he could get some court time, he'd quickly head home.
His family, including his father, Bryan, mother, Laurie, and older brother, Chaese, are supportive of him and his efforts to stay active and playing wherever he can during the pandemic.
He's had plenty of conversations about what might have been had the tournament been played and although he will have another chance at achieving that dream next season, missing out on this one stings. Because the crisis initially hit during spring break, he took a week off to process what was happening, but has taken to working out on the school's outdoor track, making sure he's eating well and doing whatever he can to stay sharp so that when basketball resumes, he's ready to go.
During the time when the gym was still open and he was one of only a few players still on campus, he'd often go and shoot on his own, something he enjoys doing.
"I like going on my own; it's kind of peaceful," Vaudrin said. "That's what great with sports ... you can go to sports as a getaway and that's what makes it weird now, that you can't get away because sports are stopped like everything else."
He pointed to sports being an escape for so many people, but because of social distancing measures and rules preventing large gatherings, having games at any level is an impossibility at this point.
For now, his outlook is staying healthy and in shape, following the various rules and guidelines for staying safe during the crisis, and keeping an eye on being ready for what comes next.
"It's different for sure, but at the end of day, these circumstances were thrown at us and we didn't get to play in the NCAA tournament, but that's more motivation to come back and do it next year," Vaudrin said.
How all of that will play out and when the next steps in the process will take place remain uncertain, so at the moment, it's a day-by-day process of navigating an uncertain time in sports and the world in general.