CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — After a post Christmas COVID-19 pause, the Illinois men’s basketball team is ready to play a game once again. The Illini (9-3, 2-0) will take the court for the first time competitively in 13 days on Tuesday night at Minnesota in a game delayed from Sunday, as the program works back from an outbreak.
Ten people in the program tested positive for the virus after returning to campus on Dec. 26, per university and DIA testing requirements. No coaches tested positive, with head coach Brad Underwood saying on Monday during his first media availability since the Braggin’ Rights game, that all uninjured players (Andre Curbelo and Austin Hutcherson are both out) are expected to be available in Minneapolis.
Underwood said his team is following all DIA and CDC protocols in both bringing players back to practice and competition. Those new regulations put in place last week by the CDC certainly helped move that process along quicker, shortening the quarantine period from ten days down to five. The other big factor was the new Big Ten rules allowing teams to move games for COVID-19 reasons, instead of applying an automatic forfeit. That meant the Illini could delay their game against the Gophers to Tuesday.
“I think this is a completely different time than a year ago,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said about how he’s dealt with the past few weeks. “Last year there were so many unknowns, we were all doing the same thing. We spent all fall, all summer putting a plan together and obviously the variant came back. It’s winter, it’s sick. You know we’ve had guys with bronchitis, with strep throat, we’ve had guys with the flu and we’ve played. I thought the ability to be vaccinated, potentially have everybody boosted, would allow us to have a season. I figured we would have issues but I didn’t know if we would have a pause.”
Everyone in the Illini program is vaccinated and according to Underwood, several members of the team already have their booster shots. Others are working towards that, based on timing of their last vaccination shot. Unlike last season, the team is no longer testing everyday but those who show symptoms or are coming off a positive test, still must take a test. Under new CDC protocols, we could even see players wear masks during games.
Senior Trent Frazier said the past few weeks have almost felt like ‘vacation’ with a trip back home to Florida, then an extended break with the team on pause. Frazier has done his best to lead the available players during workouts, with guys who didn’t test positive doing individual and small group workouts in the Ubben Practice Facility.
“I think the biggest thing was, next man up,” Frazier said on Monday. “We had guys put in different positions and step up and play a role they never played in so I said to coach if we had five guys, we’ll go to Minnesota and play with five guys. That’s what this team is about and that was toughness we’re going to bring to Minnesota to try and get the W.”