By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– This season, more than ever before, everything is subject to change in college basketball. A player who is available one day may be sidelined the next because of a positive COVID-19 test or contact tracing. Games are postponed or canceled at the 11th hour. Teams have to pause practicing.
“I honestly don’t get surprised by much these days,” UVA fifth-year senior Jay Huff said Monday afternoon. “You kind of just go with it. The schedule to me, whether that’s the game schedule or even the practice schedule, it’s all fluid at this point, and things change at a moment’s notice.”
The ACC is among the many conferences hit hard by the pandemic. Wake Forest has played only four games this season. Duke has played five.
“This has been a challenging year for everybody, right from the beginning,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton told media members Monday on a Zoom call.
“It’s not ideal, but it is what it is,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said, “and we just have to do the best we can right now.”
Virginia has encountered its share of obstacles, the latest coming over the weekend. In a battle of ranked teams, UVA was scheduled to host Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday afternoon. On Friday, however, the game was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Cavaliers’ program.
Rescheduling the game for Sunday or Monday was a possibility, Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said, but there “were just some things that couldn’t be worked out.”
So be it, Young added. “If there’s ever a time you better roll with the punches, this is it. Will it be our last postponement? Probably not.”
This has been a season of stops and starts for UVA, which is ranked No. 22 in the latest Associated Press poll. The Wahoos went nearly three weeks between games last month, and they couldn’t practice Friday or Saturday after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19.
The Hoos returned to the practice court Sunday, and they’re planning to host Wake Forest as scheduled Wednesday night at JPJ. In a game to air on RSN, the Cavaliers (5-2, 1-0) will take on the Demon Deacons (3-1, 0-1) at 9 o’clock.
His team has “some contact tracing issues” and won’t be at full strength, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said Monday. The Cavaliers will be missing more staffers than players, Bennett said, “but if everything stays the way it is, we’ll be good to go.”
The situation is less than ideal, Bennett acknowledged, but the Hoos are in a position “where if we can get games, you’ve got to try to play them.”
Kody Stattmann, who started 10 games last season, hasn’t played since Dec. 1 and won’t be available against Wake. A 6-7 junior from Australia, Stattmann is dealing with undisclosed medical issues believed to be unrelated to COVID-19, Bennett said.
Stattmann is “underdoing some medical tests that will determine more about him,” Bennett said. “We’re just kind of waiting and seeing for him, and we’ll hopefully get some more information as we get some more results back.”
This was to have been the second meeting between UVA and Wake this season. The game scheduled for Dec. 16 in Winston-Salem, N.C., however, was called off because of COVID-19 issues in the Deacons’ program.
The constant disruptions to the season have made it difficult for the Cavaliers to get in a rhythm, but this has become the new normal in college hoops. “You get used to it eventually,” Huff said.
More challenging for players, Huff said, have been the restrictions implemented to limit exposure to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, it is hard just to find stuff to do as a team outside of practice,” Huff said. “It’s not as if we can go out and go bowling. There’s very little that we can do to get a break. So we see each other at practice and then we go home, we spend time at home, and then we come back the next day.
“That’s definitely tough. I think that’s been hard on a lot of guys throughout the country, not just our team. That’s something where once life goes back to normal a little bit, we’ll appreciate the times where we can go out and grab dinner with a friend, go to a movie, or stuff like that. It’ll be great getting back to that, but it’s just weird going through this now.”
The 7-1 Huff, who’s shooting a team-best 70.2 percent from the floor, also leads the Cavaliers in blocked shots. He’s second on the team in scoring and rebounding.
Huff and fellow UVA student Lindsay Knights were wed on Sept. 19, and his marriage has helped him deal with the pandemic. He knows navigating the pandemic has been tougher for the Cavaliers’ freshmen.
“For me personally it’s been great having my wife, because I can at least spend time with someone outside the team,” Huff said. “But for a lot of these guys, it’s just practice and then go back to the dorm. I know my first year I wouldn’t have done well with this. I would have missed my family and my friends. I already did when I was a first-year, so it’s hard, and I just want to make sure they’re getting through it OK.”
Bennett has emphasized the importance of staying positive through these unprecedented times.
“You’ve got to hold things with open hands,” he said. When adversity arises, Bennett said, then “then you just learn from it. I think your attitude is really important in how you look at it.”
At the bottom of his practice plan for Monday, Bennett said, he wrote a message taken from a Bible verse: Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, character and hope.
“To me it was like, OK, when you face challenges––and that’s wherever you’re at––you need to think, ‘OK, how can we use this setback … to grow, to be stronger, hopefully for the long run?’ ” Bennett said.
The team stayed in Charlottesville through the holidays, and for Huff the break has become something of a blur.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know what day of the week it is,” Huff said, laughing. “I haven’t known what day of the week it was for the past couple weeks at least. Whether we play midweek, weekend, none of that has really come across my mind for the most part. I just kind of show up when have an opponent that’s healthy or when we’re healthy.”
If all goes as planned, that’ll be the case Wednesday night at JPJ.
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