The oddest, weirdest day I can ever remember

acc tournamentI have never been on the scene for something so absolutely surreal as Wednesday’s ACC Tournament second round.

The only thing I can equate it to is 9/11, and thankfully, nobody died today, as far as I know, in Greensboro, or anywhere else, so that was unlike 9/11.

But the day. Wow.

I woke up thinking, I’m covering four basketball games today, covering four tomorrow, if I’m lucky, I’m here for the weekend.

By the end of the afternoon session, the world had changed. An email from the ACC informed us that the games on Thursday and thereafter would be played without fans, due to escalating concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus, and all we could talk about at dinner in the media room at the Greensboro Coliseum was, well, that will be weird.

That’s so … a few hours ago.

We were waiting on media row for the announcement in the arena about tomorrow, and the lusty booing from the fans.

The announcement never came, but it was not to come, not yet, and it didn’t matter, because the news wasn’t done coming.

As the second game of the night session was getting under way, the news hit that the NBA was suspending its season, because a player, Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz center, had tested posted for coronavirus.

It immediately became obvious: the only people in the arena who didn’t know were the guys on the floor.

Syracuse and UNC were playing their hearts out, trying to keep their seasons alive, and it’s entirely likely that then, at this writing, and that you know reading this whenever, that their seasons were dead men walking, to borrow from that phrase.

But play their hearts out they did, and the fans, who likely knew, both about the announcement regarding the Thursday fan blackout, then the news about Gobert and the NBA suspension, played along.

It got loud when UNC made a brief comeback to get back into it, briefly. I keep using that word, brief, because everything right now is brief.

And then, when the game got out of reach, the Carolina fans started to leave, en masse.

From my seat on media row, I heard more than one lament: our season is over.

The typical fan lament when your favorite team is eliminated from contention.

And ironic in this context, because it’s 99.99995 percent likely that it’s not just UNC that’s done.

“It’s really, really difficult. It’s really hard,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose worry a minute ago was, can I keep my team on the NCAA bubble?

“You know, I’m hoping as a coach and a former player that these kids get to play. But I don’t think we know the depth of what this is,” Boeheim said. “It obviously is not a good look, what’s going on, what happened to the rest of the world and now come here. I just don’t know how we keep people safe because if kids go home they’re going to go out. They’re going to be in the community. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to know what the right thing to do is.”

“I think moving forward, one of the things you think about is player safety, the student-athlete,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said after his team’s win earlier in the night, over Boston College.

That one was also big, in the context of the world that was when the day began.

Notre Dame now has 20 wins this season. Very much an NCAA bubble team, if there still are such things right now.

“I spoke to my kids last night before we went over the scouting report, and I told them, look, I want you to know, if you talk to your mom, we’re going to keep you safe,” Brey said. “I’ve got a band and cheerleaders, I’ve got a heck of a travel party down here, and so moving forward after this week is going to be really interesting, as we all are probably getting a feel for it.”

Boeheim is where we all are right now.

“This could have been our last game, but my hope would be for the players to get to play the games that they’ve worked so hard to get to where they are,” Boeheim said. “Teams like Dayton who have come out of nowhere and just have an opportunity to really win a national championship. You hope those kids get that opportunity.

“Obviously we’ve got to be safe. We’ve got to do what’s the safest thing. I’m not sure anybody knows yet from listening to everything. But I just hope as a coach that we can play these games.”

It’s doubtful that we can play these games. We’re all aware of that.

Story by Chris Graham

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