THIBODAUX, La. — For roughly an hour, the New Orleans Pelicans mostly rode in silence as they traveled to Nicholls State University for an open practice.
The drive from the practice facility in the suburb of Metairie out to the campus is among one of the hardest-hit areas of the state from Hurricane Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29.
Veteran Garrett Temple, who is from nearby Baton Rouge and played at LSU when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, said a few people made eye contact with him on the drive filled with knocked-down houses, tarped roofs and fallen trees.
“I saw [Brandon Ingram] look at it a couple of times,” Temple said. “He just looked at me and was shaking his head like, ‘Damn, this is tough. This is tough.’
“Again, a city like New Orleans or Baton Rouge, you don’t really notice. But the smaller towns really get devastated. It’s harder for them to come back. It takes longer for them to come back. If your eyes were out the window a little bit, you were able to see enough.”
Temple was a freshman during Katrina and remembers extended family members coming to stay with his family.
“Me being from here, understanding how these things devastate areas, seeing still a month past, a month more past the hurricane, still seeing the devastation it has caused, it makes you grateful,” Temple said. “That’s part of the reason we’re donating what we’re donating to Nicholls State. Hopefully, we’re able to get past this. This season is dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Ida.”
Rookie Trey Murphy said he was almost lost for words on the drive.
“It was crazy because it’s [been] a month and they are still suffering from it,” Murphy said. “It makes you sympathize for the people and really understand and put yourself in your shoes. I’m glad we were able to do something for these people.”
Following the practice, coach Willie Green announced the team was donating $100,000 to Nicholls State through the team’s Gulf Coast Renewal Fund.
He added that he thought being able to have practice in the area helped some with the morale of the community.
“We’re just trying to be here in the community and help rebuild,” Green said. “I think it’s great. That’s what it’s about. Basketball, spots in general, it’s a platform to give people joy. People that don’t necessarily get to see the Pelicans often. They could see these guys up close and personal and then we get to engage in the community here. It’s the best of both sides.
“It’s tough. You see it on TV but when you see it in real life driving through, it’s touching. … They find a way to rebuild. They find a way to continue to have joy. And they do it together.”
And for the Pelicans, the hourlong ride had a lasting effect.
“I think everyone was looking out the windows in awe,” Green said. “Seeing the debris, seeing the homes that got battered by the hurricane. It was tough. It made it real for us today.”