COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Max Martz will always remember where he was on November 12, 2020. He was with his Penn teammates at one of their homes watching an NBA game, when a teammate was scrolling on Twitter and came across disappointing news.
The Ivy League would announce that similar to the preceding fall sports season, the winter sports season would also be canceled.
For Martz, a 2019 Upper Arlington graduate, that meant his sophomore year at Penn University was over before it started.
"It was disappointing to learn it on Twitter and the public got it before any of the teams did," Martz said. "It had the feeling of being a wasted year and I figured [the Ivy League] would be the first domino and others would follow. But that obviously wasn't what happened."
While the Ivy League was firmly stuck to their decision to keep sports canceled, nearly every other Division I conference proceeded, with only a few programs individually opting out.
It wasn't the first time in 2020 that Martz had felt the disappointment of lost opportunity. Earlier in March, the Ivy League was the first conference to announce it would cancel the remainder of the basketball season due to COVID-19. Every other conference would follow. For Martz, it was an abrupt ending to what was shaping to be an outstanding freshman season.
The former Golden Bear was named Ivy League rookie of the week three times and started 13 of Penn's last 14 games. Best yet, the Penn Quakers qualified for the four-team Ivy League tournament and had an opportunity to earn a March Madness bid.
"Playing in March Madness is every young player's dream," Martz said. "I remember being so ecstatic at the potential to play."
But then right before the team's final practice before the conference tournament, the Penn coaches called the team in the locker room and said the season was over.
"When the coaches came in, we knew something was up. They were very somber," Martz said. "The immediate reaction was shock. We just sat in the room in silence. And seeing the seniors react, a lot of tears were shed that day."
Photo: Princeton MBB
Meanwhile back in Central Ohio, Matt Allocco experienced similar heartbreak, but at the expense of the end of his high school career and a chance at a state championship. Allocco had led the Hilliard Bradley Jaguars to the regional finals before the pandemic nixed the remainder of their season.
"It was tough to comprehend. Not a lot of closure and just so sudden," Allocco said. "We were playing just as well as anyone in the state and I thought we had a legit chance to win it all."
Despite the disappointing finish, Allocco was eager for the next chapter in his career and was committed to play at Princeton University the next season. But as the year and pandemic progressed, Allocco had still not even stepped foot on campus and had a feeling a season wouldn't take place.
"I was kind of expecting it, because at this point, the pandemic had been going on for awhile," Allocco said. "I wasn't too surprised, but still a little hopeful because it appeared the other conferences were going to play."
Outside of somewhat frequent game cancelations and teams occasionally entering quarantine, the NCAA Division I basketball season limped its way through the winter and all through March, capped with Baylor defeating Gonzaga in the National Championship.
"I'm not sure the answer [to cancel the season] was right or wrong, and given the weight of the pandemic, I don't blame them," Martz said. "But it was tough to watch every single conference play and we did nothing."
"I was honestly a little jealous," Allocco said. "Though I also got to see my buddies and old teammates play, like Braden Norris at Loyola, who had an unbelievable season. That was great to watch."
Martz and Allocco are hopeful they won't have to watch anymore. Both players are on campus and in full practice mode with their teams, along with a greater appreciation for the opportunity to play.
"That full year put a lot of things into perspective," Martz said. "It gave us an opportunity to see where we are in this world. As a team, we grew closer, we grew beyond basketball."
Allocco would share a similar appreciation. "It's kind of cliché, but you never know when it could be your last game or it can be taken from you," Allocco said. "So every time I step on the court, it's like my last opportunity and I have to make the most of it."
The opportunity to make the most of a career in the Ivy League doesn't last long, either. The conference requires players to use all of their eligibility in four years and doesn't redshirt, not even making exceptions to the pandemic. That means for Allocco, he'll be a sophomore this upcoming season before he's ever played a collegiate game.
"If all goes to plan, I can do [the next] three years at Princeton and then grad transfer," Allocco said.
Meanwhile Martz wanted to make sure he could play four years specifically at Penn. After he spoke with coaches and family, Martz decided to not enroll at Penn during the spring 2020 semester so he could qualify as a sophomore this upcoming season.
And despite the strict rules of the Ivy League and also in a college basketball environment where even the slightest bit of discomfort causes a player to seek transfer, that was never a consideration for either player.
"I love my coaches and teammates," Martz said. "I enjoy the school aspect, I love where I'm at."
"Not once did I have any thoughts [on transferring]," Allocco said. "I was set. Princeton is not just a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision."
After a year like the last, Martz and Allocco have already gained an appreciation and perspective that should last a lifetime, on and off the court.