We’re not vaccinated yet, but we’re almost becoming immune to the daily drumbeat of news about COVID-19 impacting college sports.
Another day, another pause, another postponement. It all runs together. Unless you’re living through it.
Villanova sent out an email Sunday about how the men’s basketball team had resumed activities that day, holding a practice, preparing for a game Tuesday at DePaul. It noted that Wildcats head coach Jay Wright, who had tested positive for COVID the day after Christmas, had participated virtually through the past week but was on target to rejoin the team Tuesday. All this was to explain that there would be a Zoom media availability on Monday around 12:25 p.m.
Monday at 12:02 p.m., there was another email.
“Villanova announced a pause in men’s basketball activities Monday due to COVID-19 issues within the program.” Three games postponed, starting with DePaul. Flight canceled. Villanova still held the Zoom media availability, just pushed it back 15 minutes. Jay Wright took questions.
“We’re obviously going through a tough time right now in our program,” Wright said, explaining how his team had quarantined for 10 days, and had nine straight days of negative tests for all players, practiced on the 10th day, but as part of their daily testing, two players tested positive Monday before practice.
“I was the first one — it had nothing to do with the players, it was me,” Wright said of testing positive. “It started with me.”
Of what kind of symptoms he’d had, Wright said, “I had ‘em all. I’m good now. But it was like having a bad case of the flu. That’s what it was for me. That’s what it seemed like to me.”
After his positive test, they went back to Dec. 23, the last time everyone had been together, starting the timeline there, and contacted Marquette, since Villanova had played Marquette on the 23rd.
Of his own players, Wright said, “We had them in a hotel, in individual rooms, from the 26th until the second. So they were isolated by themselves.”
Happy New Year!
“No player did anything wrong,” Wright said. “A couple of staff members tested positive on the 26th, the 27th, but they were not with the players. … Those guys, once they tested positive, they were isolated. We don’t know … the virus can show itself within 14 days so we’re not sure how really this far off …”
He meant how far back the two players who just tested positive had been infected. “We know they’ve been isolated since they’ve been in a hotel room by themselves. We’re confident it’s nothing the players did wrong. Again, it started with me.”
Wright was asked right away about the mental health of his players. He’s talked quite a bit about the subject. It comes up again when suddenly they’re doing all this without the reward of games right now.
“It’s the biggest concern right now,” Wright said, talking about how being themselves is “very difficult … Just having to tell them today, I could tell that this one was crushing to them. … We’re still dealing with that.”
Everyone was feeling great. “We kind of felt like we had made it,” Wright said of practicing Sunday and suiting up ready to work out Monday. “Nine days in a row of negative tests, we just kind of assumed everybody would be negative.”
Asked about the possibility of false positives, which just happened within the St. John’s program, Wright said no, “because these two guys have symptoms.”
It all sounds like mental torture. Saying in advance this was a loaded question, I asked Wright, should this basketball season be happening right now?
“I do think it should,” Wright said. “We are one of the unfortunate ones right now, but I think that everyone is giving their best effort to get this done. I ask the players — it will be interesting to ask them again … this will be our third time through, this will be our third quarantine. I want to stress, our guys have done everything right. As I said, this started with me. I don’t know how I got it ... I’ve been diligent. I haven’t gone out. I’ve worn a mask everywhere I go. I haven’t gone out to any functions, I haven’t gone out to anywhere.”
That’s the nature of this beast, obviously. Wright said he had a couple of ideas on how he could have been in contact with it, but said he didn’t want to incriminate anybody.
“We ask them all the time about that: Is this worth it?” Wright said of his players. “They adamantly say to me, ‘Look, we sat at home all spring, all summer. We’ve done that. … We just want to play. We’ll do anything to play.’ They’re very adamant about that, which is really what drives our decision-making, their mindset and their mental health. We do say to each guy every time, ‘At any time, if you want to opt out, we are in full support, we get it.’”
Wright also wanted to stress his players are “getting the best medical care … they’re being tested every day. They’re getting meals. If they do get the virus, they’re monitored all day by our medical staff. We are doing the cardio workup before they’re allowed to come back.”
That’s how it looks at the micro level. At the macro level … Villanova had been one school that was more than all right without pushing things out even if it meant May Madness in 2021.
“I think we’re committed to a timeline here,” Wright said. “I think our opportunity for May Madness was maybe a couple of months ago, so we don’t have that. I do think that was an option. I do think we have to look at — everyone’s trying to do the best that they can. This is a pandemic. This virus is so incredibly contagious. … When you live through it, you ask how the hell did this guy get infected? It might have been one five-minute contact.”
The NCAA had its own announcement Monday, that March Madness for the men this year will all be in Indiana, mostly in Indianapolis. The show will go on. (And we’ll all watch.) The Associated Press rankings came out Monday. Without playing, Villanova rose from fourth to third, after Kansas lost.
“Look at the college football season,” said Wright, who has made it clear in the past that he believes a bubble situation is the best scenario. “They made it through. Is it going to be perfect? No. Is it going to be fair? No. Is there going to be competitive equity? No. But we’re in a pandemic. It can’t be perfect. Maybe we’re getting the worst of it right now. … I wish it wasn’t our guys. If you look at the teams that are getting to play, I think it would be unfair to them to take away that opportunity, because I know we would love to play.”