There is no doubt in Geno Auriemmaâs mind that his UConn womenâs 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.
âWhen we talked yesterday about having to put a pause on this, I felt really guilty that it was happening to them,â Auriemma said on a Zoom call with media Tuesday. âI felt bad, like I had a hand in this. They came back at me with, âCoach, these things are out of our control, and weâll come back from this. Weâll deal with this and weâll be even better than we were before going into it.â
âThese kids want it so bad. Theyâve been held hostage since the end of July. They canât go anywhere. They canât talk to anyone. They canât do anything. And for a couple hours every day theyâre allowed out to get some recess. Itâs incredible what has happened to them, and yet they hang in there. They donât talk about, âIâm done with this.â They just talk about, âWhen is our next game? When are we playing? When is our next practice?â â
UConn announced the positive test Monday night and that it would not play its four scheduled games - the two games in this weekendâs Womenâs 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 Huskiesâ 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.
âLike everything else this year, you just roll with it, make adjustments and move on.â 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.
âI talk to coaches all the time,â Auriemma said. âIt is incredible how many different theories you get. Who is doing testing? Who is doing contact tracing? Who has had the pause?
âThose people that have had a pause, they all say the same thing. They donât 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 isnât June where you just work on individual instruction. Youâre trying to get ready for games. Youâre 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.â
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 Auriemmaâs team if it can get back to practice on Dec. 8. That would give the Huskies a week to prepare for Butler.
âItâs a situation youâve never been in,â Auriemma said. âThereâs never been a time during your coaching career where someone says, âHey, just when you think youâve 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.â Thereâs no, âHey, remember when we did that in 1998?â
âWeâre all kind of flying here without any instruments. Weâre just kind of going by feel. When they get here you look at them and say, âWhat does it look like? What are the four or five things that we have to have taken care of before we play?â 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.â
For now, itâs one day at a time for Auriemma and his players.
âIâm just trying to reassure them that it will be fine,â Auriemma said. âIt will be fine. Donât worry. It will be great. Donât worry. Things are going to be great. Iâm sure there was a guy on the Titanic that was in charge of saying that. I just hope Iâm not that guy.â