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Hurley discusses second program shutdown as Big East mulls bubble

The Huskies’ future schedule remains in flux.

NCAA Basketball: Hartford at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UConn men’s basketball paused program activities earlier this week due another positive COVID-19 test. Looking forward, Dan Hurley and the Huskies are still playing the waiting game.

“I think a lot of times uncertainty is tougher than adversity, at least when you face adversity you know your opponent. You know the enemy and you can face it,” Hurley said in a call with the media.

The Huskies head coach maintained a perspective and respect for the humanity of his players that was comforting to see given that the challenges surrounding this pandemic are far greater than college basketball. He acknowledged that his players were in isolation during Thanksgiving and will have to be again during Christmas.

“It’s hard to complain about the frustration of of a college basketball season, with respect to the real world problems that COVID has created,” Hurley shared. “I say it with great respect to that, it’s challenging. To keep a team, engaged and prepared to play games and to have a seat, it doesn’t feel like much of a season, right now, at this particular moment.”

Hurley revealed that two people tested positive: one player and one non-Tier I personnel member, forcing the program to pause team activities and postpone the Big East opener scheduled for Dec. 11 against St. John’s. The players that have tested negative can shoot around as testing continues but some staff members are now in isolation due to contact tracing protocols.

The program will continue testing for additional positives. Any players or coaches that continuously test negative could return to action seven days from the shutdown date, or possibly 10 days if additional positives are found. The player who tested positive will need to recover and pass cardiac testing before being cleared to come back to the court. Also, Akok Akok’s timeline for return is also pushed forward since he needs live reps to get ready for gameplay.

After St. John’s, the Huskies’ next scheduled game is on Sunday, Dec. 13 against Georgetown. But that does not seem like a strong possibility of occurring either.

“Obviously that Georgetown game is on Sunday. And I think our first potential day back as a group potentially would be Sunday if we got all negative tests for the rest of the week,” Hurley said. He didn’t say for sure but...

Athletic Director David Benedict also indicated that the trip to Washington, DC appears unlikely to happen.

“Did you say that it looks like the men’s basketball is going to be traveling soon? [Laughs] Well we don’t know when we’re going to be traveling,” Benedict said earlier Tuesday. “At some point in time, certainly both on the men’s and women’s side, we’re hopeful that we can travel and play some games on the road. To your point, look, everything’s really fluid right now.”

So UConn’s next game could be at Providence on Dec. 17 or at home against Creighton Dec. 20, and Hurley is focused on keeping morale up as the players and coaches once again have to spend time from the game they love.

“I think athletes and coaches, we’re tough minded people, but there’s certainly a layer of frustration,” he said. “The players are frustrated, the coaches are exasperated by the whole thing. But once we know officially when our first day is going to be back then I think will be a lot better spirits and we won’t be just swimming in uncertainty.”

As brutal as the uncertainty is, it’s not going away anytime soon. As of now, UConn and the rest of the Big East schools don’t have any games scheduled after Christmas.

While Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said a post-holiday schedule will be released shortly, Ackerman also mentioned that the conference may opt to play games in a bubble or pause play altogether if the COVID-19 situation gets increasingly worse, according to a report from Adam Zagoria.

“I can’t give you an exact metric, but if there’s a significant number of cancelations or the country is in such a state that it makes sense to either pivot to the single-venue [option] or pause altogether for a little while, then we’ll be prepared to do anything, whatever makes sense. But I can’t predict right now exactly what the date will be [when a decision would be made],” Ackerman told Zagoria.

At this time, UConn and DePaul are the only two Big East schools on pause due to COVID-19, but there is no reason to believe the incidence of positive tests will stop any time soon.

Ackerman has mentioned Mohegan Sun as a potential option, as well as sites in Washington D.C., Omaha, Nebraska and Indianapolis. The bubble proposed by the Big East would be longer than Bubbleville at Mohegan Sun, but significantly shorter than the bubbles used by the NBA and WNBA.

“Right now our sense is that that kind of model could span anywhere from 5-12 days, no more than 10 or 12 [days],” Ackerman told Zagoria. “We’re just trying to keep it being from so long that it might affect their mental health.”

Hurley and the Huskies already have bubble experience having spent some time at Bubblevile at Mohegan Sun for a win over USC before a positive COVID-19 test from NC State canceled their second game. He said that if the conference does strongly consider a bubble, players and coaches should be able to offer their two cents.

“If that’s where it’s heading, the leadership needs to get together and really have conversations with people that were in the bubble so we can actually come up with a plan to execute the bubble really well and those conversations need to happen really, really soon,” Hurley said.

Overall, Hurley seemed impressed by the Bubbleville experience, but did have one nit to pick — a lack of space.

“If you’re going to stay [in the bubble] for a longer period of time, like two weeks, and try to get in more games, like six or seven games, you have to have larger access to a bigger space,” Hurley said. “The thing about the bubble there in Mohegan is you literally can’t go anywhere. The only place you have any freedom to move is in your room because you’re literally taken around by security anywhere else. The reason why the NBA effectively became a bubble where people could move more freely and go for a walk. It was because they took over, like the entire, you know hotel area. So people like the people there I talked to that had been there for 12 or 13 days and hadn’t gotten outside. So, I mean it’s just things that you would like if that’s where it’s going.”