Gulbe takes long road back to Bloomington

No sooner was the 2019-20 women’s basketball season declared dead in the water, than Aleksa Gulbe was whisked away to the airport to catch a flight home while she still could.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping the United States, travel within the country and abroad was on the verge of shutting down, and Gulbe had a flight of 14 to 17 hours ahead to her hometown of Riga, Latvia.

The then-Indiana sophomore made it home in mid-March and began a two-week quarantine, not knowing if her stay would be a few weeks or a few months.

It turned out to be longer than anyone expected, as Gulbe only returned to Bloomington in late September.

“I was home for six and a half months, which is crazy,” the 6-foot-3 junior said on a Zoom call during IU’s Virtual Media Day last week. “I’ve never been home for that long of a time. I came back at the end of September, but we just kept communicating with the coaches, my parents, with all of the COVID stuff comparing America to Latvia. America had pretty high stats.

“At some moments, when the cases peaked, we kind of thought, ‘Wow, when is that going to come down a little bit and when am I going to be able to see my teammates again?’”

That question took longer to answer than anyone expected. After the two-week quarantine, Gulbe adjusted to life in Latvia.

“That was the time where most of the people didn’t go to work — they were working from home remotely and spent their time at home,” she said. “Some grocery shops were closed on weekends, so if you had to go and get some groceries, you would do it on the weekdays. We had this type of regulation until the end of March, I would say. Then after that, you could see more people walking on the street, wearing masks, but I feel like we did a great job of making sure we stayed social-distanced, washed hands and wore masks, so by the start of May, we didn’t have any cases, so most of our lives just went back to normal.”

But an offseason in Latvia during a pandemic was anything but normal. Indiana strength and conditioning coach Kevin Konopasek made sure it wasn’t wasted time.

“Coach Kevin, he sent out some circuits to do at home, so we could still get the same effect as from the gym,” Gulbe said. “It was just a lot of body-weight exercises and a lot of running outside when we were quarantining.

“Then when May came around, I was able to go and practice with my coach of the national team. I finally got in they gym and got shots up. Thank God our cases went down, so I was able to go to the gym, practice conditioning.

“… I stayed in touch with Coach Kevin and with our coaching staff just to follow the guidelines they gave me when I left and just to continue to get better.”

In June, Gulbe began practicing with the Latvia national team three times a week for two months, getting individual workouts and weightlifting sessions.

The summer concluded with a two-game exhibition series against Finland in August.

“After that long of a time, not being able to play and being away from basketball, just to feel the energy of being on the court, it was awesome that we had that opportunity,” Gulbe said.

All things considered, IU coach Teri Moren is as pleased with where Gulbe is on the court as where she is off of it after six and a half months away.

“We missed Leks,” Moren said. “I wish the circumstances were different and she could’ve spent some of the summer with us, which would only help her.

“… She was playing while she was over there, so it’s not like she wasn’t doing anything. She was training with her national team, so she came back in great shape, thin, her body looks great. And she’s shooting it well right now.”

That’s a very good sign for the Hoosiers, who are expecting Gulbe to transition into a starting role as a stretch four, while sophomore Mackenzie Holmes mans the center spot where Gulbe started a year ago.

“I think that is a great opportunity for me and Mackenzie to work off of each other,” Gulbe said. “Mackenzie has put a lot of work in the offseason and looks very good right now. And I feel like maybe me at the stretch four and her at the five, then interchanging depending on the type of team we play, I like that.

“… I feel the position stretch four is playing off of mismatches and if a bigger defender, taller defender, maybe a slower one is defending you on the perimeter, you have to use your agility to drive and penetrate. If the defender is a little smaller, then you have to take advantage of them in the post.”

That process began in earnest when practice officially started Wednesday, but in the meantime Gulbe has just tried to adjust to a much different life in American than the one she left behind in March.

“I would say I have to get used to wearing masks again, because we didn’t have to wear them back home (since May),” she said. “Also, the fact that most of our classes are remote, so we don’t have to go to class and we just do them online. Those are probably the two biggest adjustments I have right now.”

28 comments

  1. Good to hear that Lexi had the opportunity to work out while home and get her training in. It’s great to hear that she will be playing in the stretch 4 position which is her best position. Her versatility is waisted at center. Her ball handling and outside shooting makes her nearly impossible to guard. Really looking forward to her having a great season for the Hoosiers! The upcoming year is going to be a lot of fun! I believe this will be the best team in IU women’s history without a doubt barring injury? I am really looking forward to see how well Nicole Cardano-Hillary, Kiandra Browne and Danielle Patterson make us better as a team? Hillary is a proven scorer at the Division 1 level. Patterson will give us great depth at the post position and Browne has a skill level and some size that will be a great addition to this team. Those 3 along with the rest of the returners will make this a team to contend with on the National level! Very excited about the upcoming year, just hope we will be able to attend the games? It would be a true shame if this team had to play in front of empty seats. This could very truely be our best team ever! Go Hoosiers!!

  2. From what I understand according to the waiver rule Hillary wont be available to play this coming season. Im sure I will be corrected if that is incorrect. Chloe Mcneal could be a nice asset with her length and 3 pt prowess if its true she shoots 40%.

  3. Yes, it seems T. Moren is the most confident in this team since being at IU. Though graded a little different than men…IU LADIES arguably HAVE 5…5 star players or is it even arguable?

  4. Who gets to a Final Four first…? Moren or Miller? Or does Allen get to an East division title first?

    Who will accomplish national relevance first? Who will shock the world first?

    Can anyone believe we are now nearing 20 years since our last Final Four trip under Mike Davis? Holy….all talk, no action, Batman.

  5. Over the last 4 or five years I had a similar question IU men’s basketball vs IU Ladies basketball and continually had and have question who would or will have best season between the two.

  6. Right on, t. Not trying to steal your gig and you certainly have repeatedly contemplated on the question of which ‘Dud’ will finally be the ‘Red Hot’ rising to the top. Us Hoosier fans are not very spoiled. It’s not like Final Four trips and top bowl games are ‘Good n Plenty.’ The power-players just shake a box of sweet marketing treats and sugary slogans and it’s enough fix to get us through another decade. We rarely rule anything in the Big10 anymore. We rule more of a Big10 Confectionery. We stretch out the years like taffy and we put the sugary glazes of hype on everything as enticing as the hot morning donuts in a baker’s case.

    But maybe someday…..we’ll venture into aisles outside of sweets and breads and actually make a meal with some creativity, substance, flavor and protein.

    You’re a fun dude, t. You never know what tomorrow shall bring and I think you should be given some simple credit for making Scoop something other than a contest to brain flex. Thanks for that.

  7. Its been hinted at by others but after looking at the practice clip on twitter Mackenzie looks 15-20 lbs lighter than last year and that should be a plus for her and the team.

  8. With phrases being thrown around in articles such as “Potential Powerhouse” hopefully Moren can add a top ten ranked team to the schedule so this team can see where they really stand.

  9. Not a lot has been emphasized about how important Lex was for us defensively on the inside last season . She was our strongest player able to defend some really good players she faced on the inside. Not sure that was her favorite position but it was the role most needed on this IU team for her. I think she would prefer to linger on the perimeter although she hasnt proven to be an efficient shooter from the outside as yet. Im sure she will be a key piece for IU defensively again this season. Im hoping that Noveroski will be improved enough to get some minutes to help in that area defensively.

  10. L.G. lives good on the inside and though she may move out I expect her presence on inside. She can’t just linger outside and disappear because Steve your right L.G. is inconsistent on long shot. However, how about her 5 to 15 foot shot. L.G. will hit a long shot once in a while. L.G. is strong, quick to handle inside, (defensively and offensively) and skilled. IT IS A MUST THAT L.G. STAYS VERY INVOLVED IN GAME.

  11. According to Moren she wants more long range bombing from her team this season so expect to see it. Lex is a good all around player but we need her presence inside the most. I expect we will see overal improvement this year and if we can get some good play from the newcomers well and good. I will surprised if this team doesnt move into the top 10 at some point this season.

  12. Nor is a fairly high level player in h.s. (all star). High quality and she may make contributions. She did in HS all star game realizing she was bigger than everyone else. However, she may have very much upside and may be kind a like a Marchase on steroids, (higher ability level). The reason I say this is that a recent picture shows how much she has changed her body. This tells me she is committed, focused and working. If gets her game polished she could be a solid positive surprise.

  13. This season at this point will start, but its getting scarier by the minute with some colleges just shutting it down due to too many positive covid cases. IU is looking to have a special season maybe the best ever providing it doesnt get halted sooner than later. Are some student /athletes just not taking it serious enough and having it backfire right in their face. There will be some games that will get postponed/canceled because of positive cases at the very least. Lets just hope good planning is in place . Already there is limited travel plans in place . Out east they already have a 30 team bubble in place, it seemed to work for the WNBA/NBA with an occasional isolation.

Leave a Reply