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UConn WBB Weekly: Two-week shutdown creating more than a few headaches for Geno, Huskies

The Huskies paused team activities for two weeks after a positive COVID test within the program. How does that affect the team’s preparations for the season?

Courtesy of UConn Athletics

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Two-week shutdown creating headaches for Geno, Huskies

UConn women’s basketball paused team activities for 14 days after a member of the program (but not a player or coach) tested positive for COVID-19. First and foremost is the health of that individual, who is luckily asymptomatic as of Tuesday.

But with college basketball officially starting on Wednesday, the impact on the Huskies’ basketball operations can’t be ignored, either.

UConn can’t return to the court until Saturday at the earliest — assuming all 11 players test negative twice before then. Once that happens, players can only workout in their own pods, which means there won’t be groups of more than three or four in the gym at a time. Though it’s better than nothing, it makes the Huskies’s preparation for their first game far more difficult.

“What do you do with four at a time? What do you do at this late stage? This is in June where you just work on individual instruction,” Auriemma said. “You’re trying to get ready for games. You’re trying to put a team together. So what do you do with three players?”

Aside from preparation itself, the likelihood of an injury increases due to the 14-day shutdown. The news of the positive test came out Wednesday night, which means the players will quarantining in their apartments for at least four days — without means to properly work out.

When they can return to the gym, the support staff will work on maintaining the players’ fitness levels during the pause in team activities. But Auriemma isn’t sure that alone will be enough.

“I don’t know how you get in game shape unless you’re playing,” he said. “I don’t know how you can stay in basketball shape unless you’re going up and down a lot with real basketball stuff going on.”

In addition to the players’ physical health, Auriemma is also concerned with how they’re holding up mentally. They’ve been essentially locked in their apartments since returning to campus this summer — or “held hostage” as the coach put it — with the few hours they spend in the gym each day as their only escape.

Auriemma reiterated that all players are free to opt out without repercussions if they don’t feel comfortable playing this season but said “none of our players have indicated anything like that.” They’ve all been adamant that they want to play this season and will take whatever precautions are necessary to do so, according to their coach.

“They don’t talk about ‘I’m done with this.’ They just talk about, ‘When’s our first game? When are we playing? When’s our next practice?’,” Auriemma said. “At this point in time where I’m supposed to be giving them all the good stuff that they need, I’m getting it from them. It’s ‘Coach, relax, man. Everything will be alright. Coach, don’t worry. Everything’s fine. We’re gonna be really fine, don’t worry. Don’t beat yourself up.’ They are unbelievable.”

Still though, Auriemma doesn’t want them burdened with too much. After all, each player is still only a teenager or in their early 20’s. They aren’t being paid to play, either. If any player comes to practice and doesn’t necessarily have their head in the game, it’s hard to fault them for it.

“Where are they mentally? They probably are doing the best they can,” he said. “They put up a good front but how many hits have they been asked to take? Especially the freshmen, given what happened to them the end of their senior year in high school and what their first year in college has been like. So really, even when you do get them on the court, are they really all there? Or are they in some state of funk? I don’t know.”

Another part of what makes UConn’s current situation particularly difficult is that there isn’t a precedent for it. Though Auriemma has been a head coach for 35 years, there’s never been a time in his career where his team was forced to stop playing for two weeks just before the season.

“We’re all kind of flying here without any instruments,” he said. “We’re just kind of going by feel and we’re going to have maybe a week of practice before we play our first game.”

That doesn’t mean this is completely uncharted territory for Auriemma, though. The circumstances are vastly different but the short lead up to UConn’s first game is similar to Auriemma’s experience coaching the US National Team in the early 2010s.

“It’s kind of like when I was coaching the national team, I would get together and I would go, ‘Okay what are three or four things that we know for sure we need to be able to do?’” he said. “I would always go into every one of those saying, ‘Man, every other team has had months to get ready, we have five days.’ But you figure it out and when they get here, you start to look at them and say ‘Okay, what do we look like? What’s it feel like? What are the four or five things that we have to have taken care of before we play?’ And then you just start checking those off each day. Then you just try to make it to the first game.”

Assuming all goes well, UConn can return to full team practice on Dec. 8 — exactly one week before its first scheduled game against Butler on Dec. 15. If the Huskies do get there and play, they’ll have a better idea of what they need to work on moving forward.

But up until that point, UConn’s main concern should be making sure its players are in game shape — or at least close to it. If the Huskies can get out of the season opener healthy, it’ll be a big win, regardless of what happens on the court.

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Geno Auriemma, out of context: “The wine part is really good. I have to make sure I don’t get too enamored with all that.”

Geno out of context, part two: “I’m just trying to reassure them that it’ll be fine. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. It’ll be great. Don’t worry, things are gonna be great. I’m sure there was a guy on the Titanic who was in charge of saying that. I just hope I’m not that guy.”

On a more serious note, this is a poignant quote from Auriemma: “I feel like I’ve been in this state since March. I’m not in a great place, I’m not in a bad place. I’m in a neutral space. It’s hard to get excited every day because tomorrow might be the day where you say the season’s over.”