Auriemma keeping UConn women's basketball in positive mindset after team shutdown

Published on Wednesday, 25 November 2020 10:07
Written by CARL ADAMEC


There is no doubt in Geno Auriemma’s mind that his UConn women’s basketball program has done everything right since his players arrived in Storrs in late July to be ready for the season.

But the Hall of Fame coach was left with a feeling of helplessness Monday when he had to inform his squad that a Tier 1 individual - not a player and not a coach - had tested positive for COVID-19 and that all activity would be paused for 14 days.

“When we talked yesterday about having to put a pause on this, I felt really guilty that it was happening to them,” Auriemma said on a Zoom call with media Tuesday. “I felt bad, like I had a hand in this. They came back at me with, ‘Coach, these things are out of our control, and we’ll come back from this. We’ll deal with this and we’ll be even better than we were before going into it.’

“These kids want it so bad. They’ve been held hostage since the end of July. They can’t go anywhere. They can’t talk to anyone. They can’t do anything. And for a couple hours every day they’re allowed out to get some recess. It’s incredible what has happened to them, and yet they hang in there. They don’t talk about, ‘I’m done with this.’ They just talk about, ‘When is our next game? When are we playing? When is our next practice?’ ”

UConn announced the positive test Monday night and that it would not play its four scheduled games - the two games in this weekend’s Women’s Hall of Fame Challenge at Mohegan Sun Arena (which was canceled Tuesday), its Dec. 4 game with Louisville also at the casino, and its Big East opener at Seton Hall on Dec. 6. Only the conference game with Seton Hall is expected to be rescheduled.

The Huskies’ opener is set for Dec. 15 against Butler at Gampel Pavilion. If there are no more positive tests, their first practice will be Dec. 8.

“Like everything else this year, you just roll with it, make adjustments and move on.” Auriemma said.

Tier 1 individuals include players, coaches, practice players, athletic trainers, and medical and equipment staff. The person who tested positive was tested again Tuesday. The UConn players are currently quarantined in their pods and will take two more tests - today and Friday - this week. If those tests come back negative, they can work out in pods starting on Saturday.

Auriemma said the person is asymptomatic and that he had no reason to believe that they were reckless in any way in contracting the virus.

Now he must find a way to move his team forward while their work has been stalled.

“I talk to coaches all the time,” Auriemma said. “It is incredible how many different theories you get. Who is doing testing? Who is doing contact tracing? Who has had the pause?

“Those people that have had a pause, they all say the same thing. They don’t know what to do with three kids at a time. What do you do with four at a time? What do you do at this late stage? This isn’t June where you just work on individual instruction. You’re trying to get ready for games. You’re trying to put a team together. So what do you do with three or four players? Everyone is scrambling to try to find the right thing to do.”

The UConn men returned to practice last week and open their season tonight against Central Connecticut State at Gampel Pavilion.

The timetable will be similar for Auriemma’s team if it can get back to practice on Dec. 8. That would give the Huskies a week to prepare for Butler.

“It’s a situation you’ve never been in,” Auriemma said. “There’s never been a time during your coaching career where someone says, ‘Hey, just when you think you’ve put your team together and you are on the brink of playing, you have to stop for two weeks and then start back up again and get ready to play a few days later.’ There’s no, ‘Hey, remember when we did that in 1998?’

“We’re all kind of flying here without any instruments. We’re just kind of going by feel. When they get here you look at them and say, ‘What does it look like? What are the four or five things that we have to have taken care of before we play?’ Then you start checking those off each day. Then you just try to make it to the first game. Then after that first game that performance is kind of going to drive you toward what you are going to have to do until the next game.”

For now, it’s one day at a time for Auriemma and his players.

“I’m just trying to reassure them that it will be fine,” Auriemma said. “It will be fine. Don’t worry. It will be great. Don’t worry. Things are going to be great. I’m sure there was a guy on the Titanic that was in charge of saying that. I just hope I’m not that guy.”

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Wednesday, 25 November 2020 10:07. Updated: Wednesday, 25 November 2020 10:09.