Arizona head coach Adia Barnes is usually one of the most positive, upbeat people you will ever talk to. As the college basketball season got underway on Wednesday, she was unusually somber and stressed.
If having a new baby at home wasn’t enough, being responsible for the safety of 15 young women during a pandemic certainly would be. Having eight of them quarantined due to a false positive novel coronavirus test was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“With basketball there’s been a lot of false positives,” Barnes said. “So one of our players tested positive on the antigen twice. And then everybody around her was quarantined because they’ve been around each other in cars, at dinner. And then so that happened, and you have to wait for a PCR negative. Well, the PCR took like two-and-a-half days. So I had eight players out for three-and-a-half days. They just came back.”
Barnes hopes the near-miss served as a wake-up call for her team that if they want to play, they must be vigilant. She’s also taken steps on her part, like making sure the restaurants where they pick up food only allow take-out.
At Pac-12 Media Day, she had discussed a game that Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer played with the Cardinal to show them how the actions of one player could affect so many others. Barnes said that she was going to steal the idea.
She may not have to now. Although it turns out that the player and her contacts were all negative for the virus, it still drove the point home. The team was looking at heading into their season opener against Northern Arizona severely depleted.
“I think the challenge is going to be, if that was a game, they would have missed (it),” Barnes said. “I would have gone into the game with seven people.”
The biggest problem for the Wildcats is that the eight who were out were almost all experienced players. While Barnes didn’t name them, the implication was that the group included most or all of her starters.
“I was just kind of working on kind of getting the players ready that were there, because I thought we possibly might have to play with those players on Sunday,” she said. “So we did and they were all mainly new players. So I just thought there was nothing I could do, so I figured, ‘Okay let me just get these players to work...on some things that they need to work on and just get them ready’.”
Now, she’s worrying about how to keep real positive tests from happening.
In addition to worrying about how and where her team eats, Barnes is also thinking about how to keep them safe during games. Arizona is one of the few teams that still wears masks throughout practice, which Barnes said was useful with the contract tracing when the team was dealing with the false positive test.
Players will not wear masks on the court during games, but they will be masking up on the bench, Barnes said. She will also wear a mask, possibly an N95. With three high-risk players and a new baby at home, she doesn’t want to take chances.
“I don’t know if they have to do that, but I think that it’s one more layer of protection,” Barnes said. “And one of the reasons why we haven’t been quarantined three or four more times is because in my practice we all wear masks.”
There are things she can’t control, though. One of those is the influx of out-of-town family members coming to Tucson for the holidays.
“The concern is Thanksgiving, and then being able to compete with my team,” Barnes said. “So I’m very nervous. So, I had (assistant team physician) Dr. (Stephen) Paul talk to our team about the importance of this because everybody’s families are coming in. So I’m nervous at the beginning of the season. Also because we open up with UCLA—No. 9. So if anything happens this week, we don’t have our team in the opening weekend in Pac-12. So I’m extremely nervous and I’m not all that confident right now because I’m looking all around the country, and everybody’s canceling left and right so I just need to educate this week a lot.”
Barnes is considering shutting down games to family members in the future like some others in the conference are doing. She believes that fewer families will come to town if they can’t attend the games.
But home games aren’t the only concern. Away games are weighing on her mind. Barnes doesn’t believe the team can compete without charters this year.
“We have one of the top teams in the country,” she said. “For us to be able to compete, I think we need to have a safe environment.”
While Barnes said flights to Seattle are generally easy, most of the air travel involves layovers, flight changes and long hours in airports. With that comes the need to find a safe way to eat in a crowded airport.
“I think it’s very important for us to have charters,” she said. “And I also understand that that’s a huge financial thing. So I wish someone would just say, ‘Adia, I’ll pay for all your charters.’ I’d be like, ‘Oh, you're a lifesaver!’”