Villanova began its morning Thursday with a walkthrough at the New York Athletic Club, looking forward to entering Madison Square Garden that evening for a quarterfinal game against DePaul in the Big East Tournament.
The Wildcats never got there, however. Coach Jay Wright and his players found out just after noon that the tournament would be canceled after Creighton and St. John’s finished the first half of their game, and the team bus arrived back on campus around 4:10.
The cancellation was bad enough, but Wright discovered after initially meeting with the media in front of the Davis Center that the NCAA Tournament also would not be played because of fears over the coronavirus.
“Definitely, it’s one of those things in life that’s a great lesson for our players,” Wright said after the cameras and tape recorders had been turned back on. “Basketball is such a big part of our lives, but in the real scheme of things in the world and in life, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Wright said he and his staff were preparing his players all week for any possibility, but he was still a little disappointed for them, that this group will not play together again.
“I can see each step along the way, when you tell them, ‘No fans,’ you could see their heads go down,” he said. “When you tell them, ‘We’re not playing in the tournament,’ you see their heads go down more.
“It’s funny, some of the freshmen don’t even know how big that Big East Tournament is yet. I can see the disappointment, but they’re intelligent guys, too. No one’s mad or upset, they know the seriousness of this in our country and how we’ve got to take more of a global view about this.”
Instead of trying to win their fourth consecutive conference tournament title, the Wildcats had to settle for a three-way, first-place, regular-season tie in the Big East and an overall record of 24-7. They have one senior, walk-on guard Tim Saunders, and they may lose their leading scorer, sophomore forward Saddiq Bey, who is projected as a first-round NBA draft pick.
The Big East went ahead with Wednesday night’s first-round doubleheader but announced late in the evening that the tournament would continue Thursday without the general public being allowed in.
While a number of conferences were announcing the cancellation of their tournaments throughout the morning, the Big East began the first quarterfinal game between No. 1 seed Creighton and No. 9 St. John’s, but the contest was halted at halftime.
Later Thursday, the conference announced the cancellation of all 2020 spring sports competitions, effective immediately.
The Big East Tournament call was made the day after the NBA suspended its schedule following the discovery that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus. Gobert and the Jazz played in the Garden on March 4 against the New York Knicks.
“I don’t think they took everything into account, like Rudy had played there,” Wright said. “I don’t think they were that far ahead of it. I think they were waiting for the New York Health Department to make a decision. I think what happened was, at the start of the game, the mayor announced that he was going to have a press conference at 2, so I think once they heard that, they just shut it down.”
Wright wants his players to let him know when anyone develops symptoms. He would like to see Villanova’s traveling party get tested but understands “you can’t get tested if you’re asymptomatic.”
The coach, who now will see his players get accustomed to taking online classes, feels that his players have learned lessons through what he called “a really strange time.”