HEADING into his fourth and final season with the Winthrop Eagles, you'd assume Kyle Zunic knows what to expect for the year ahead.
But if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the Sanctuary Point product and his teammates anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
Rewind eight months and Zunic's Eagles, who has just won the Big South Conference, were still coming to terms with the cancellation of the NCAA tournament due to the coronavirus.
The 21-year-old then returned to Australia for what was meant to be a brief family visit. When the lockdown happened across the country, he was forced to improvise his training.
"I had a few weights in the garage that my godfather brought over, so I was able to keep my body in shape," Zunic said.
"I went for runs a lot just to stay fit, in an attempt to not lose that cardiovascular fitness.
"I was also very lucky because my parents bought a basketball rim to put in the driveway, so I was able to keep the feel of shooting there.
"I was fortunate to have all the facilities to stay in shape even though nothing was open."
Then after close to two months back on the South Coast, Zunic returned to the United States on July 4 due to his summer school commitments.
"The journey back wasn't any different really in terms of getting through customs and all of that - there were actually fewer people, so it went quicker than usual," the Illawarra Hawks junior said.
"The only thing was having to wear a mask the whole trip and just making sure I stayed clean while travelling."
The international travel wasn't the only adjustment Zunic had to make during that time, with his college implementing a COVID-safe training program.
"It's definitely been a change and a lot different to what we are all used to because we have to be very careful with what we do," he said.
"At the start of our return, we had to wear a mask with any activity we did in the Coliseum, where we practice.
"Now they've allowed us to not wear masks while we have official practice because we get tested regularly.
"We have to wear masks in the weight room, which is a big change and there's a lot of distancing with water bottles and when we come into practice.
"As well as training, the hardest adjustment for me would be just having to not do things that we usually do in everyday life.
"We have to make sure we don't do much socialising because we need to focus on staying away from COVID-19 in order to keep testing negative, so we can keep practising.
"It has been a big change for our team and we need to be very disciplined in our decisions because one slip up can cause our season to be affected by COVID-19."
As difficult as all this seems, the heartbreaking end to Zunic's junior season has kept he and his side committed during the pre-season.
"The end of last season has been a huge drive not only for me but our whole team," the guard said.
"We're all still so hungry to get another championship because we didn't get that experience of the NCAA tournament.
"All of us are going all out in practice and I'm super excited to see what we can do this year to get back to the tournament again."
In particular, Zunic has been working on his shooting consistency heading into his senior season.
"I feel as though my shooting has been pretty solid in my years here, however, it needs to be much better than it is.
"I have got everything else right - my body, my IQ for the game, my defence and now if I can add a consistent shot to my game, I feel as though it will make me a much better asset for my team this year."
The former Sanctuary Point Public School student's 2020-21 season will tip-off on November 29 against UNC Greensboro.
They will then feature in the Wade Houston Tip-off Classic before starting Big South Conference play, where the Eagles will play back-to-back sets against each of their rivals, as a way to reduce travel during COVID-19.
"A big goal [for this season] is to win another championship, but from an individual standpoint, I just want to be the best leader I can for my team," he said.
"Being in my fourth year, I feel as though I know a lot about college basketball and the year that lies ahead - so just making sure to keep leading at a high level and not take anything for granted this year.
"It's important to take the same approach every day.
"I feel as though in the past three years, I got caught up in getting past the off-season, so I can get to games.
"However, this year I didn't take any of these days for granted and I made sure I put the work in every day so I can get the most out of it when the games start.
"I have put in so much work and I'm really trying to just focus on that and let that come out when the games start."
Despite losing key players Josh Ferguson and Hunter Hale, Zunic has full confidence his team can go even further than last season.
"I believe this team can go so far because we have so many returners and although we lost two unbelievable pieces, we have so many great players ready to step up and fill their shoes," he said.
"As a team, we have been so disciplined and locked in this pre-season, there is such a positive feel to our team and we all believe we can win against anyone in the country when we step out on the court."
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