In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Osage senior Dylan Long has something positive to look forward to.

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Osage senior Dylan Long has something positive to look forward to.

Long, like many other seniors in the Lake area and across the country, was supposed to be enjoying his final few months of high school. But the Class of 2020 did not have that privilege and it has been about two months since Long or any of his classmates at Osage have set foot inside a classroom. That is why the senior was especially grateful to briefly come back so he could sign his letter of intent to play basketball for Evangel University on Thursday.

“It was really cool that I could email my superintendent and principal, and my athletic director and coaches could get it set up here at the school,” Long said of his signing ceremony. “It has been kind of a dream for me to do it right in front of my school and hometown. I did not want to do it in front of my home.

“Feels a lot different here, having the people I wanted to be there anyways just watching me.”

And in the midst of the pandemic, Long has been able to stay in contact with his new program at the NAIA school in Springfield. Whether it is his coach sending a workout to the players or a group chat on social media with fellow recruits, there has been some kind of communication to keep things as normal as possible. The Osage senior also noted that he was supposed to go perform for his coaches so they could get an even better look at him, but his old coach at Osage can say what kind of player the Crusaders just signed.

“Dylan is a great kid and a tremendous work ethic has gotten him to where he is at. He is not 6-foot-3 where he is coming in and doing all these things, but every time I came in the morning to go work he has been in here for 20 or 30 minutes working on his own,” said former Osage coach Aaron Shockley who recently stepped down to take a new position in Oklahoma.

“He was always a kid that after practice he was asking somebody or me to rebound for him and it is a huge credit to him for how hard he wanted it. He followed his goal and I’m very proud of him.”

Shockley, who was glad to be able to see some familiar faces as well on Thursday, was not the only one to recognize the work ethic as the results showed on the court.

At the Owensville Tournament, Long made the top 10 for free throw percentage and rebounds and he led in scoring. The senior was also named Second Team All-Conference in the Tri-County, Class 4 All-District, First Team All-Region and First Team All-District by media members of central Missouri. He was also named Snow Valley Camp MVP (most valuable player) and was an Elite 30 nomination in Roundball Magazine.

The senior echoed the hard work it took to reach the collegiate level, and even acknowledged that there were days he didn’t feel like putting in that effort. However, he credited his family for helping him to push through those times with their support and it did not take much for him to be reminded for his love of the game.

“Pretty much everything about it. The atmosphere, the sounds you hear when you are in the game and being able to get in the zone and block everything else out,” he said, describing it.

That was also something that compelled him to sign with Evangel where he will study kinesiology, as the gym there reminded him of the few “Throwback” games at Heritage Gymnasium in Lake Ozark against rival Eldon.

“They have a lot of tradition there,” Long said of his new school.

The senior also chose Evangel to strengthen his faith in Christianity.

“I’ve always been a believer of God,” he noted. “They are going to help me learn more about it and get more in-touch with God. I get to play the sport I love doing it.”

And when the time finally comes to head to Springfield and be with his new teammates, Shockley said Long is prepared for what comes next because of the way he carried himself at Osage.

“He is going to come in and push everybody. He is not going to be scared or back down from anybody,” Shockley stated, recalling that the senior was often known as a scorer and point of emphasis on opposing scouting reports and did a great job of embracing the role. “He is going to want the best guy to guard him and want to guard the best guy because he knows that is what is going to push him to be better and more successful. That is what he did in practice and I’m looking forward to watching him.

“Hopefully, I can get up and catch a couple of games. I’m excited for him and I think he made a really good decision. Evangel is lucky to have him, for sure.”

And while Long may be ready for the next chapter, he certainly won’t forget his time as an Indian. Starting out as a freshman, he found the motivation and challenge he needed to shape the kind of player he became.

“As I went through, Coach Shockley believed in me and all the coaches believed in me and helped me just get through,” the senior said. “I am definitely going to miss the program and all the people around me here.”

Shockley pointed out that the kind of dedication and work ethic the senior showed in that time is what turns an average player into a good player and that could be a good lesson for anyone coming through. Nothing should be taken for granted.

“If they just watch and see how much time he put in, you can’t just walk on the court and be ready to play,” he said.

For Long, it just came down to overcoming any adversity that came his way.

“Especially for those that are not athletically gifted and are also challenged in height,” the senior said with a smile, “there is definitely a lot of adversity and ‘haters’ out there that will just tell you, you cannot do it. But don’t take it to heart. Use those words of discouragement as more motivation.”