Kentucky coach John Calipari is hopeful the season can get under way as planned next month.
By KEITH TAYLOR
LEXINGTON, Ky, — John Calipari isn’t sure what’s going to happen beyond Thanksgiving weekend.
“We don’t run this,” Calipari said during a Zoom conference call with reporters on Monday. “The virus runs us. … I don’t know how this thing is going to play out and, I will tell you, if one of our kids gets positive and is traced, we’re out 14 days.”
Already in a bubble on campus, the Wildcats have spent most of preseason workouts following COVID-19 protocols and taking extra precautions even as cases continue to rise to record numbers in the state.
“I’m feeling very comfortable to the 25th of November,” he said. “We’re also wearing chips that they’re doing in football, and what we’re finding out is unless you’re playing against somebody a lot, you’re not going to be in his space more than 15 minutes, six feet. As coaches, managers, we’re not near the players five minutes in a practice, three minutes in a practice.
“What we mitigated by wearing the chips, if it’s the players and they’re staying in the bubble, they should be fine. We leave the bubble to go home, managers, coaches, some of the managers are in the lodge. But when we come back, we’re not in there. We’ve got masks on and we’re not close enough to them. So, I feel good until the 25th.”
Although a revised and complete schedule has yet to be released, the Wildcats have a backup plan in place in case a team on the non-conference schedule can’t play because of coronavirus cases.
“We’ve got our schedule, which we were ahead of this because we just said, OK, play war games,” he said. “If they give us this date, that date, that date, what’s our schedule look like? Let’s get it ahead of time. Then what if this team gets sick? How do we do this? So, we have some backups in case something like that happens.”
Calipari admits he didn’t watch a video of Louisville coach Chris Mack’s response to playing the Wildcats in late December at the KFC Yum! Center, but added, that “guys that take shots, when you shoot arrows at me, they go through bazooka holes. They barely touch skin. They may not touch skin.” Calipari’s biggest concern is just navigating the current pandemic and playing this season.
“I just want to play — we have to get this underway in a safe way,” he said. “We’ve all got to mitigate. We’ve all got to look after what we’re doing with our kids – wait a minute – and our staff and our managers because the virus is running us. We’re not running it. How do we mitigate all of this stuff? We’ve got to play. I’m saying, if we’ve got to play on I-95, I’m good. I’m playing.”
The Champions Classic already is in jeopardy after ESPN reportedly called off along with a long list of other tournaments that were scheduled to be played in a “bubble format” in Orlando. Indianapolis appears to be the new frontrunner for the Classic, which features Michigan State, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky.
With a plan in place for games against the rival Cardinals and other non-conference teams, the Kentucky coach isn’t sure what will transpire when it comes to Southeastern Conference encounters.
“If someone gets sick it will be a make-up game, I guess,” he said. “I don’t know. I mean, if we play in pods and you’re playing six or seven games at a time and one team’s not there, how to make those games up I don’t know. I mean, we’re counting on the league office to have plans A, B, C, D and E. And maybe F.”
He also is worried about trying to get his squad to stay composed amid the uncertainly surrounding the season along with preparing for the postseason.
“I think this is a year, you’re not worried about your record as much as playing, playing well and then counting on the committee to pick the best teams,” he said. “Who are they? And it’s not going to be by record because you’ve got some teams that are going to play six ‘bye’ games. They’re playing the lightest schedule they can get. They’re trying to stay on their campus. There’s nothing wrong with that. Then you’re having us. I think it’s safer to play other Power 5s who are testing and protocols like we are, but the problem with that is, you’re not going to win as many games.”
One of Calipari’s returnees from last season — Keion Brooks — suffered a leg injury recently and is going to be out for at least two more weeks.
“We need his leadership,” he said. “We need his basketball sense. We need his knowledge of what these kids are going to face. You have Olivier (Sarr) and Davion (Mintz) and Keion would be vets. Everyone else, they think they know, but they don’t. Keion is a big piece of what we do. But he has not practiced, and I believe he’s going to be out a couple of more weeks.”
Brooks, the lone returnee who played significant minutes last year, averaged 4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Brooks scored 10 points in the final game at Florida last season and led the Wildcats in rebounds, blocks and steals in two games last year.