CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — If Brad Underwood has learned anything from the pandemic, it’s to expect the unexpected. The Illinois basketball coach has always been someone who took his time planning things, going the extra mile so to speak to make sure everything was taken care of in case of emergency. Then COVID-19 hit, forcing all the norms he’s known for the past two-plus decades coaching into a spin cycle no one has ever witnessed before.
So when his team got back to Champaign early Thursday morning last week after a decisive Braggin’ Rights when over Missouri in St. Louis, it was time to hold his breath as many of his players departed for home to spend the holidays with their families. It was a good thing after the team didn’t get that opportunity last year, spending the season in a proverbial bubble. But it also came with the reality that a positive COVID-19 case was likely. That played out to be the case, with the program announcing Monday it was going on pause due to the virus and positive tests within the program. It forced the final non-conference game of the season scheduled for Wednesday night against Florida A&M to be canceled, with Sunday’s game at Minnesota to re-start Big Ten play in question. For Underwood, the uncertainty of not knowing what’s ahead is a struggle.
“I’ve never been that way, I’ve always been a guy that’s been a planner, needed time to think things through,” Underwood said. “So I’ve become very, I’m becoming better at being uncomfortable and doing things on the fly a little bit and when you’ve got a great staff, you rely on those people as well. I ask a lot more questions, I dive into things, I want to get their opinions but again, it’s the new norm for what we are in basketball.”
The Illini (9-3, 2-0 B1G) were one of the few teams in the Big Ten last year that did not have to go on pause due to COVID-19, leading the way in several regards, including testing. The Illinois women’s basketball team is also on pause right now, with their next two conference games postponed.