This season presents the possibility for some challenges that college basketball teams don’t typically have to deal with given the concern with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The West Virginia basketball team certainly understands that this season the eventual national champion might not be the most talented team but perhaps the one that remains the healthiest.
“I think the message has been more than ever you’re going to have to be very careful of what happens away from here. You’re fine here,” head coach Bob Huggins said.
Keeping the players only in the team facilities is a difficult task even at the professional levels outside of bubble situations, so you can imagine the difficulties it presents with college students. Something as routine as a handshake can present problems and that doesn’t even factor in other hurdles of simply being a college student and the activities they can find themselves doing.
“You don’t have time to hang out. You don’t really do that because for one we’re getting tested every three days and if one of your test turns out positive you’re out for 10 days and you have to do all the other tests to make sure your heart is OK,” junior forward Emmitt Matthews said.
It takes a buy-in from the entire team and that’s something that Huggins has seen out of his group.
“They understand they’re doing their best to help each other,” he said. “I’m sure before the season is over with something will happen but they’re doing their best to make sure it doesn’t.”
A positive test or even contact tracing will cost athletes at least 14-days, which puts them behind the eight ball in regards to practice. It also obviously means they won’t be able to participate in games either. That doesn’t even begin to factor in the health concerns the virus presents.
In order to get past some of those pitfalls, the players on the team have started spending more time together instead of mingling with those outside the program.
“If you want to do something on a Saturday night, call up a teammate. Call up a group of teammates and that’s what we do. We get together,” junior guard Jordan McCabe said. “We’re not going to feel the need to go out and do certain things that are going to jeopardize our season.”
It takes discipline especially when you see those outside the program participating in normal college activities but in order to meet those goals it has to be done.
“It’s one of those sacrifices we have to make. Because at the end of the day we all have a goal and ours is to win a national championship,” Matthews said. “So we’ve got to give up those things for that and I’m fine with that.”
That commitment has to come from up and down the roster, which is critical in a season filled with so many unknowns. That also means online classes and limiting interactions with others outside the program while maintaining a consistent testing schedule.
“It’s not ideal, we would like to do certain things in our life away from basketball but you can’t. We’re not going to play if you jeopardize it and we’re all pre much on the same page,” McCabe said.
So the focus is keep their distance, abide by the regulations and work toward a common goal.
“It’s learning how to deal with life in this crazy time,” he said.