Since the men’s basketball team returned to campus and to voluntary offseason workouts in July, head coach Shaka Smart said he’s been limiting close contact and live 5-on-5 practice.
The head coach addressed other COVID-19 precautions the team is taking, new assistant coaching hires and scheduling in a Thursday teleconference.
“We had a team workout on Tuesday,” Smart said. “We had a COVID test 48 hours after that. So Tuesday was one of those days where I decided, ‘Hey guys, we’re all going to be in here, but we’re going to stay distant and have no contact.’ … So we got a lot of things done, but we didn’t play any 5-on-5 or even any 1-on-1.”
With the team being tested for COVID-19 three times a week, Smart said “some, not many” players tested positive and his team has largely been responsible with “conduct and who they’re around.”
The caution is contributing to two goals, Smart said: keeping players safe and keeping the team on path toward playing games this upcoming season.
After the NCAA announced Sept.16 that the start of college basketball is scheduled for Nov. 25, Smart said the Big 12 is planning two regular-season games for December. He also said that the much-anticipated matchup against Villanova in the Big 12-Big East Battle is still on, along with the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
Five games in those nonconference matchups and the Big 12 regular season will leave Texas with a total of four other nonconference slots still to be scheduled, Smart said.
A revamped schedule and COVID-19 precautions aren’t the only new changes for a team that has all of its players returning from the 2019-20 season. Smart also had two new coaching changes over the summer, adding former SMU assistant head coach K.T. Turner and an in-house hire in Cody Hatt.
Hatt had worked the past four years as Texas’ director of men’s basketball operations before his recent promotion became official Wednesday. Turner joined the Longhorns on Aug. 26 as assistant coach after seven years at SMU.
“The coaching staff is not so much about a group of individuals. It’s about how everybody fits together,” Smart said. “Similar to Cody (Hatt), K.T. (Turner) really brings a ‘servant’ mentality to the program.”
Hatt fills the opening left by the departure of former Texas assistant coach Jai Lucas to Kentucky in late August. Lucas’ late departure comes after former assistant Luke Yaklich left the Texas coaching staff for a head coaching job at the University of Illinois at Chicago in March.
The timing of Yaklich’s departure early in the offseason helped Smart with the hiring process after Lucas left late in the summer, the head coach said.
“Since late March, we’ve known we had an assistant coaching opening,” Smart said. “Because of COVID, quarantine and a couple of other things, I decided it was really important for us to take our time and weigh a bunch of things. I’m really glad I did because Jai ended up leaving in the late summer.”