COVID-19 cancellations, uncertainty loom large as Texas men’s basketball season returns

AddThis

Photo Credit: Courtesy of UTRGV Athletics | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Nov. 24 issue of the The Daily Texan. Read about the results of the game against UT-Rio Grande Valley here

The 14-day quarantine period is the shadow looming over the college basketball season, and it has already affected Texas’s first opponent of the season: UT-Rio Grande Valley. The Longhorns will play UT-RGV in their home opener Wednesday.

In October, the Vaqueros paused practice after positive COVID-19 cases on the team forced players and coaches to quarantine.

“It put us back a little bit, as far as conditioning, as far as the young guys knowing certain things, but we’re catching up now, ” UT-RGV head coach Lew Hill said in a Nov. 17 teleconference. “It’s like trying to cram for a test.”

UT-RGV hasn’t been the only team affected by the virus before the season starts Wednesday. Big 12 favorite Baylor withdrew from its first game of the season after head coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID-19. Duke postponed its first game of the season after scheduled opponent Gardner-Webb had a positive COVID-19 test.

The 14-day quarantine period could prove costly for teams once the season actually gets underway. During any given two-week period in Texas’s 27-game schedule, the team, or any player undergoing quarantine, would miss at least four games.

To limit travel and the impact of the virus, UT-RGV’s non-conference slate includes only teams from Texas, just another quirk of a season plagued by COVID-19. But the Vaqueros’ schedule is still strong, with UT-RGV playing Texas as well as Texas A&M. Hill joked his non-conference schedule was “probably too competitive.”

“We wanted to stay in Texas if we could,” Hill said. “We reached out to Texas and a few other Big 12 schools, we started talking, and Shaka (Smart) made it happen.”

 

The matchup against Texas will also be the first athletic competition played by a UT-RGV team since mid-March. The university does not have a football team and did not play any fall sports. 

“For our student-athletes and those around the country, to have the opportunity to compete this year, it’s really a privilege because there are so many little things that go into it,” said Chasse Conque, UT-RGV vice president and director of athletics. “It’s the behind-the-scenes things, like protocols, the way we structure practice and everything from travel to testing.”

UT-RGV conducted tests once a week when an unknown number of UT-RGV men’s basketball players tested positive for the virus in October. Conque said the school would ramp up testing to three times a week as the season began, meeting both NCAA, Big 12 and Western Athletic Conference standards.

The Texas team has been testing three times a week during the preseason, and in September, head coach Shaka Smart said “some, not many” players had tested positive. In a Monday teleconference, Smart said nobody on his coaching staff has tested positive for the virus, “knock on wood.”

The Texas head coach also said he had to undergo the 14-day isolation period before his players returned to campus over the summer.

“It’s tough,” Smart said. “You can’t go anywhere, you can’t do the things you normally do and for these guys who are used to playing basketball and being very active, that’s a heck of an adjustment. It also is a disruption to their progress and what they’re trying to do.”

However, the message that Smart, Hill and other Big 12 coaches have reiterated across the offseason is to just adapt to whatever the season brings.

“We’re hoping there aren’t any cancellations, but we’ve prepared for that, ” Hill said. “You’ve just got to prepare for everything.”