One day after UConn women’s basketball shut down team activities for at least 14 days due to a positive COVID test, head coach Geno Auriemma met with the media to lay out the next steps for his program as a whole.
Though Auriemma couldn’t reveal very much information, he confirmed that it wasn’t a player or coach who tested positive. That means it’s another “Tier I” individual, which includes practice players, sports medicine, and equipment staff. Contact tracing determined that only the players need to quarantine.
The person who tested positive will be tested again today to ensure the first result wasn’t a false positive. Auriemma said they are “completely asymptomatic” and believes they were acting responsibly prior to the positive test.
“I have no reason to believe that they were in any way, shape, or form, being reckless and wanting to just throw caution to the wind,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happened.”
The players are quarantining within their pods — the same ones they were in when they returned to campus. They will be tested on Wednesday and again on Friday. If both sets of tests come back negative, they can resume workouts with their pods on Saturday. The 14-day clock began on Tuesday, so UConn can’t return to the court as a team until Dec. 8 at the earliest.
UPDATE: UConn announced that all 11 players were cleared to begin workouts in pods. A second person in the program did test positive, but the school determined it did not need to modify its plans.
Auriemma said the players’ spirits remain high and they’ve been positive throughout the process — at least in his interactions with them. With Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday, the staff is trying to set something up so they can still celebrate the holiday despite being stuck in quarantine.
“We have dining scenarios that we’re putting in place for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” Auriemma said. “So we’re trying to make their Thanksgiving something other than just another day of the week. So we’re working on that right this moment. I guess it’s fortuitous that I own a restaurant.”
UConn’s first four games will be affected by the positive test and ensuing 14-day quarantine.
The Huskies were slated to begin the season at the Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge against Quinnipiac on Saturday and Maine/Mississippi State on Sunday. That event has since been canceled. UConn also had a date with Louisville on Dec. 4 and expected to open Big East play at Seton Hall on Dec. 6.
If all goes according to plan, the Huskies’ season will now begin at home against Butler on Dec. 15.
The Seton Hall game will be “rescheduled for sure” with a make-up date to be announced soon, according to Auriemma. However, he wasn’t optimistic about the three non-conference matchups.
“Right now, the tournament this weekend and the Louisville game, they’re gone,” he said. “Unless at some point during the season, something happens and any one of these teams are looking for a game and we’re looking for a game so it could be resurrected.
Doing so may be tough and at the very least, it’s unlikely to happen before Christmas based on how compact UConn’s schedule is before then.
Recently, Iona men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino advocated for pushing the start of the season back to March with the NCAA Tournament in May. The hope is that the virus will be under better control by then — as opposed to now with COVID infections spiking across the country — which would make it safer for players and staff, while also reducing disruptions in the schedule.
Though Auriemma didn’t dismiss the idea, he’s not sure if moving the season back will make a difference.
“It just looks bad right now but there’s no guarantee that it would be any better (in March). I think everything was being done to protect the NCAA Tournament in some way shape or form, and to try to keep it in that slot, I imagine,” he said. “Does later give you a better chance? But, again, that’s just hoping that things change.”
“Everybody’s going to be in this scenario”
So far this season, UConn has followed guidelines and rules from health officials closely to prevent a positive test. Auriemma said the players have willingly been “held hostage” since returning to campus in July, just so they can have the opportunity to play this season.
“These kids want this so bad,” he said. “They can’t go anywhere, they can’t talk to anybody, they can’t do anything, and for a couple hours every day they’re allowed out to get some recess.”
But even with all the strict procedures, the Huskies still had a positive test. Though Auriemma believes the program has done everything it can to keep those involved safe, he also felt that this shutdown was inevitable.
“Everybody’s going to be in this scenario at some point,” he said. “Either already has been, is, or will be. You can pretty much predict that.”
As Auriemma said, he had no reason to believe the person who tested positive acted irresponsibly. While there are instances of people around the country not taking the virus serious by not wearing masks or disregarding social distancing, even people who do follow all the rules and guidelines can still become infected.
Ultimately, UConn isn’t in a true bubble. Players still have to walk through campus to get back to their apartments and shop at the grocery store. Staff members return home to their families. There’s no proven way to completely stop the virus from spreading.
“Is there a way to keep [the virus] out? No, I don’t think there is,” Auriemma said. “Because if there was, everybody would be doing it. So here is no magic something that we could say, ‘Okay everybody’s going to do this’ and now, boom, we don’t have to deal with it anymore. Until we have a vaccine and everyone’s been vaccinated – those are two separate things – I think we’re going to be struggling.”