The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has been together for four months now, mixing in early preseason training before practices officially began on Oct. 14. This college basketball season is a bit of an aberration to be sure, with programs around the country navigating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Syracuse has been testing for Covid-19 once per week and has yet to report a positive case. Once the season begins Syracuse and its opponents will test three times per week.
As coronavirus cases rise across the country, concerns are heightened heading into the college basketball season, which is just two weeks away from its start. Certain programs have been pausing practices due to positive cases within specific programs.
“It’s the most difficult thing we’ve had to deal with in our country, in my lifetime, by quite a lot,” Says Jim Boeheim, who embarks on his 45th season as head coach at Syracuse.
At the Melo Center, players have been trying to distance as much as possible during practice. Basketball coaches at SU have no meetings these days. Film sessions have been nixed for the time being.
All coaches wear masks and players stay 10-feet apart in warmups, according to Boeheim. Players are still scrimmaging and come into close contact with each other, albeit more limited than usual. When Boeheim instructs his players he does so at a distance now instead of standing beside them. By his estimation, he’s only next to a player for a maximum of two minutes. Players go into the locker room only four or five at a time. While necessary, it does come at a cost.
“You don’t have as much of that unity,” Boeheim said Thursday on a Zoom call. “I think I saw Aaron Rodgers even say that today.”
Coaches, players and managers all began wearing wristwatches a week or two ago during practices. The wristwatches beep and emit a color-coded response when staff or players come too close to one another. The devices also collect data throughout practice, which SU plans to share with the state and county. At current, if one player tests positive, the entire team must quarantine for 14 days. That could result in four or five missed games during the season.
“We’re trying to take care of our people and keep them healthy. But we have talked to the county. We’re sending them what we’re doing. We have computer chips on each player, on each coach, that measure how many minutes exactly you’re next to somebody during practice,” Boeheim divulged.
The data is stored with the intent to contact trace should one or more players test positive.
Boeheim says he and the staff are trying to educate players and keep them healthy by social distancing, wearing masks and hand-washing. Some coaches in the ACC have elected to limit all contact in practice.
“Josh Pastner is not scrimmaging. At all,” Boeheim said. “We’re doing a little scrimmaging and when we play zone we’re not matched up with a guy so we don’t have as much contact with one particular player.”
Perhaps the 2-3 zone offers some inherent advantages.
Syracuse has been taking precautions while simultaneously trying to push through responsibly to have a season. The players are eager to get the season started and compete against teams other than their own.
“You don’t sit still and you don’t give up. And you don’t quit. I’m against that 100 percent and I see that out there today,” Boeheim opined. “I don’t think you give up. I think you try to get through it.”