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Why Villanova got a Big East game vs. St. John’s postponed | Mike Jensen

Jay Wright on families' seeing his players over the holidays. "They’re not going to stay with them — they’re going to come and meet with them ... social distanced."

Villanova coach Jay Wright huddling his team against St. Joseph’s during the second half Saturday at the Finneran Pavilion.
Villanova coach Jay Wright huddling his team against St. Joseph’s during the second half Saturday at the Finneran Pavilion.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

The Big East announcement came late Friday, a Dec. 30 game between Villanova and St. John’s postponed, but not because of any positive COVID tests. Just because Jay Wright decided his Villanova players needed a break, and St. John’s agreed to hold off on the game, that a break sounded good.

Any other year, it would be like — wait, what? In 2020-21, however, such a move doesn’t raise a single eyebrow. It is worth looking at, however, since it offers a window into college sports during this pandemic.

“We were going to play it if St. John’s wanted to play it,” Wright said after Saturday’s win over St. Joseph’s.

It seemed like this was done to get Villanova’s players home for Christmas. Originally, yes, Wright explained. Now, no.

“We don’t feel like we can send our guys home because of protocol issues,” Wright said. “If they went home and they got in contact with anybody, and we didn’t know who they got in contact with ... So we’re going to have their parents come in. That way, we know who they’re in contact with, and the parents are going to test.”

The new holiday spirit.

“They’re not going to stay with [the players] — they’re going to come and meet with them ... social distanced,” Wright said, explaining the get-together would happen at the Finneran Pavilion. “We have space set up for each family, social distanced. Just so they get to see each other.”

The original decision, Wright said, was to let the players go home.

“At the time, it was a seven-day quarantine if someone tested positive,” Wright said. “So we told them, ‘We’re going to let you go home.’ Then we found out it’s not a seven-day …”

It would be a 10-day quarantine, Wright said, and anyone testing positive would need to get tested for cardiomyopathy.

“We’ve been through this,” Wright said, referring to a preseason COVID practice halt. “When you hear like a 14-day quarantine, it’s not. It was 23 days, with the heart test. … We had to go back to the guys, said, ‘You can still go home, but this is what it’s going to be.’ They said, ‘We don’t want to. We’d rather our families come to us.’ "

The quarantine, Wright said, is a precaution.

“There were a lot of variables involved,” he said. “The players don’t think they need a break. I just know they’ve done such a good job; they’ve sacrificed so much. I think as the adult, I have to tell them, ‘I’m giving you a break. You need to take a break.’ ”

He doesn’t mean just from games.

“We’re not practicing for, like, four days,” Wright said. “Even when we come back, because we’re in quarantine, they’re going to work out individually for two days after that. That’s the break. Get away from the grind of practice, weightlifting, film. For them to finish the season strong, I think they need this right now. Again, this is all new. In a normal season, they don’t need that. But everything they’ve been through since we started ... ”

Wright noted that Villanova wasn’t just in a bubble for the four games up at Mohegan Sun.

“We started a bubble at the beginning of November, three weeks out, to prepare,” Wright said. “Which we’ve been in. No contact with anybody. No girlfriend, no family, nobody.”

That’s made a little easier by few people being on Villanova’s campus since Thanksgiving.

“I think all of us have done a great job of being disciplined ...” Wildcats guard Justin Moore said.

He didn’t mean on the court. The first question to Moore wasn’t about his 18 points, 7 assists, or 6 rebounds in the 88-68 win over St. Joseph’s. It was about getting that break after Wednesday’s game at Marquette.

“ … Trying to do what’s best for this team, staying in the bubble, not seeing anybody,” Moore said. “Staying focused on basketball, and each other. So I think it’s good to get a little break just from basketball, spend Christmas time with each other, just sit back and regenerate.”

Has it driven him insane at all?

“Nah, nah,” Moore said. “As long as I’ve got my guys, my teammates, my brothers … being able to play basketball. That’s what we came here for. So it’s fine.”

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl played against St. Joe’s with a mask after breaking his nose against Butler and still had a huge game, with 25 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists. He was asked afterward about his nose and his game, but also about the break.

What’s the craziest part of this quarantine deal?

“For me, I don’t see myself doing anything else than I’m already doing,” Robinson-Earl said. “Just staying in my room, playing video games, just practicing, being around my teammates. I would say just kind of the little freedom we get …”

He meant that they don’t get right now, being the only difference.

“Hanging with our family, going out to restaurants, hanging out with our friends,” Robinson-Earl said.

The Villanova star was talking on a Zoom call with a bunch of people who weren’t in the room with him. “Is he there? There he is, I see him,” the first questioner said, looking for Robinson-Earl’s Zoom box, after a basketball game played without fans. Maybe not the new normal, the current normal. Robinson-Earl didn’t skip a beat.

Even in regular times, they don’t get much freedom anyway, do they?

“No, we don’t,” Robinson-Earl said. “Just always staying with each other. But we love it.”