It seems like every hour, another college basketball program announces it is suspending activities due to COVID-19. Just today, Ole Miss and Tennessee have joined that growing list. For now, John Calipari says Kentucky and its first three opponents are in the clear for the Bluegrass Showcase, which tips off Wednesday evening at Rupp Arena starting with Morehead State.
“Yeah. I called [my son] Brad last night and asked. They’ve been good and they’ve had another test yesterday. They’ll get it back today in Detroit. I’m hearing Morehead [State] has been good and Richmond. So, it appears as though we’re good to go, but that’s today.”
We’ve heard Calipari preach about Kentucky’s “bubble” between the lodge and practice facility ad nauseam. Today, he noted that despite all of the safety protocols in place, the virus in charge until a vaccine is readily available.
“We don’t control it. It controls us, this virus. And so, I just heard Mississippi is out until Dec. 7. What I’m doing is everything I can to mitigate here. We’re in the lodge. You guys know the situation. We’re in the lodge, nobody else is in there. They’ve got their own bedroom and bathroom. The chef cooks their meals there. He’s there, he gets tested. They walk across the parking lot to our practice facility. No one is in the offices, so there is no, it can go through the system. There’s no one in here. There’s no one in the women’s [side], we come in different doors. We don’t see each other.
“The problem is when we start playing. The good news is, they’re saying that of all the sports, they don’t believe anyone has caught it from the playing field or court. They think it’s meal rooms, hotels, planes, buses. It’s contact with others outside of that area and we’ve done a pretty good job. All I can tell you is, even though we think we’re doing good — we’re wearing those chips to every practice, every scrimmage, we’re having the officials wear it, the managers, the coaches to mitigate all this — I just want to make sure our kids are safe.”
In addition to the bubble and the tracking chips, Calipari is considering changing Kentucky’s game day routine for away games. Instead of going to the destination the night before the game, the Cats may make the trip the morning of to cut down on potential exposure.
“We’re talking right now, and I’ve never done this before, but we may travel on game day. Like, game day. You say, why would you travel on a day of a game? Wouldn’t you be better being rested? Yeah, but it’s another hotel stay. We’re going to have our personal bus bussed to wherever we’re playing so that when we get off that plane, we’re on a bus that’s sanitized with the bus driver we know. And then go to the gym if we have time to shoot around. If we don’t, we don’t. We go to the hotel, lay around for an hour or two, have a pregame meal, play the game, immediately get on our own bus and get on that plane that didn’t leave. It’s the same plane we came in. We get on it and go. We may have face shields, and masks. I may be overdoing it but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Rupp Arena will be limited to 15% capacity for the Bluegrass Showcase, which is approximately 3,000 fans. Masks will be required and temperature checks will be taken upon entry. Calipari acknowledged that not having 23,000 in Rupp will diminish Kentucky’s home court advantage, but hopes the university can come up with a way to test fans prior to games to boost capacity later this season.
“The team that gets hurt the most, and forget about financial anything else, by not having fans or only having 15% or whatever, is Kentucky. The reason is, people come into this building are always paying in front of 20,000 and it’s a big advantage for us. Our fans, and our fanbase, and that building, play a big part in our success. I don’t know what our record is during my 11 years here, but I think it’s pretty high in this building. Well, if it’s just a building and a court, we don’t have the advantage we usually have. So, it’s going to hurt us more that anybody else.
“My hope is we figure out a way that fans that want to come to the game can be tested so people are comfortable being our building. Not just with the thermometer and saying, okay, they don’t have a fever, because there are asymptomatic people, but there’s a test given a couple of days before. Now, a test isn’t the vaccine but people will feel more comfortable having a mask on, having social distance. Maybe we can get more in our building if we figure out a way to try to test so that everybody is comfortable. And maybe we show the rest of the country, this is the only way you can increase the number of fans there. But I think we’re a ways away. We’re just going to try to get through these first three games in five days, which is going to be hard on my team.”
Kentucky’s bubble will be tested this week, but Calipari is still allowing players’ families to come to Lexington for Thanksgiving, with several protocols in place.
“It’s been tough on my guys. We’re having Thanksgiving and we are having parents come in. Having them tested, trying to keep them away from their kids, telling them we’ve been so good because we’re in a bubble down here in the lodge and in the practice facility. We can’t screw up now but how could I tell a parent not to come who hasn’t seen his son in five or six months? I can’t do that I couldn’t. Now, I told them, we’ve gotta stay separated. We’re hoping there are going to be fans at our games, but if they’re not, they’re not. I can’t let you in practice. You cannot come to practice. No one is in our practices. All this makes it hard on the kids I have who are 17, 18, 19. So, this has been a rough road for the kids and like I said, another team, Ole Miss, not opening up until December 7. The virus, it’s controlling all of this.”