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UVA Basketball and COVID-19: How the ‘Hoos are adapting

basketball covid-19
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How have the defending champs been impacted by COVID-19? Pretty much the same way you’ve been.

“The connectedness is a challenge, you know, you can’t … you realize how much physical touch is important when you’d just like to put your arm around a player, you know, pat them on the back or whatever, and you don’t do that as much,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.

You feel a little disconnected, Bennett said, which, yeah, we all feel disconnected.

Me personally, I leave my house once a day to get an hour-long run in at the high school track, then swing by to check the mail, then return home.

This has been routine for the past eight months.

Lather, rinse, repeat, pretty much.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Pfizer, on Monday, announced success with its COVID-19 vaccine trial, and White House COVID czar Anthony Fauci is saying the vaccines will begin being distributed next month.

In the meantime, you still have governors in some states – not Virginia, yet – suggesting that family Thanksgiving might not be a good idea.

Rays of light, beacons of hope, those jabronis.

At least we’ll have basketball. Virginia, like many programs, opens the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, with a marquee matchup with Florida set for Black Friday.

Getting there, from a basketball perspective, hasn’t been easy.

Early workouts were limited to four-player groups, just to mitigate any chance of virus spread, and Bennett has had his team practicing in masks, though he said Monday that the plan is to begin moving away from that.

The good news is that what Bennett and Co. have been doing is working. The team has been able to get to this point with no COVID-19 disruptions.

And in one sense, with nothing else to do, no outside distractions, just class, practice, conditioning, the focus is off the charts.

“In terms of basketball-wise, it’s been a time where you can kind of really lock in on basketball itself,” grad student Sam Hauser said. “Not having in-person classes, you’re having online classes, you kind of have more time to spend with your teammates on and off the court, so I think in that aspect it’s been good for basketball.”

“We’re all around each other all the time. Most of the guys live together,” grad student Jay Huff said. “And then, we don’t really do a whole lot else, so we’re pretty confident that we’re being safe. But that being said, we still, you know, do our best to be safe, wear masks, wash our hands that type of thing. Even when we’re around each other.”

Which is pretty much what you’re doing.

Wearing your masks, washing your hands, focusing.

Every once in a good while, even, having an outing.

Bennett described a recent team activity that had players and staff touring the Memorial for Enslaved Laborers on Central Grounds, another that involved a team meal at Michie Tavern.

“You try to do things like that, because the guys really aren’t getting the ability to interact with their classmates, hang out as much see their family. You want to try to have some of those moments, We did a miniature golf match play. We did some good stuff that way. You try to make those moments and then obviously the Zoom stuff, and then you know be as businesslike, with fun, in practices and that’s really all you can do,” Bennett said.

That’s really all you can do.

Until tip-off.

I can’t wait until my watch buzzes because my heart rate is over 100 BPM because I’m wrapped up in the final minutes of a UVA basketball game, personally.

Story by Chris Graham