‘So far, so good’ — Jayhawks, Zags on schedule for Thursday showdown in Fort Myers, Fla.
photo by: Associated Press
With COVID-19 cases rising and temporary shutdowns taking place throughout college basketball, Kansas coach Bill Self and Gonzaga coach Mark Few decided to check in with each other on Sunday night, four days ahead of the season opener between the two teams.
“Mark said, ‘So far, so good with the Zags,'” Self told reporters during a Zoom call on Monday afternoon. “And I said, ‘Same here with the Jayhawks.'”
Top-ranked Gonzaga and No. 6 Kansas are slated to open the season against each other Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla. (12:30 p.m., FOX). But because of COVID-19, their preparation goes beyond just tuning up their game.
“We’ve been testing, just like everybody else in America has, since the players returned back in August,” Self said. “And we’ve ramped that up to three times a week.”
With the Jayhawks slated to leave for Florida on Tuesday, Self said the plan was for players and staff on the trip to test Wednesday and then again after their game with Saint Joseph’s on Friday.
“And then I’m sure we’ll have to test again before we go play Kentucky (on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis),” Self said. “So it’s going to be an every-other-day thing, if not an everyday thing.”
The Gonzaga players left for Fort Myers on Monday and likely are going through similar testing protocols leading up to Thursday’s tipoff.
Because the Jayhawks have operated with a similar routine throughout the preseason, Self said there was no big adjustment period now that it was game week.
“We all want to play,” Self said. “And our guys really want to play. But the whole deal is, we don’t need to get too high or too low when we do or when we can’t. Because there’s going to be plenty of those this year over the course of the season.”
Sophomore guard Christian Braun agreed that the team needed to remain not just level-headed, but positive.
“We got stopped short of a Final Four run (and) trying to win a championship last year,” Braun said. “So nothing thrown at us could be worse than that or more unexpected than that. So you’ve just got to be positive. Keep looking forward.”
The pandemic has already thrown a wrench into Kansas’ 2020-21 schedule. Before COVID-19 hit, the Jayhawks were originally slated to open the season Nov. 10 against Kentucky in Chicago, and by this point in November, they were supposed to have played four games. Instead, they’re still gearing up for game No. 1.
But facing the nation’s No. 1 team right out of the gate has a way of keeping players locked in. And Braun said the opportunity for the Jayhawks to test themselves against a team as talented as Gonzaga added to the excitement surrounding the start of a new season.
“I’m just excited to be back,” Braun said. “It’s our first time to compete against somebody else, other than ourselves, in a long time. … I think this team will be ready for anything. At this point, we’ve kind of trained our minds to just take things as they come.”
The players say they’re ready — Self says they’re probably not. But they can all agree that returning to the court for a real game against a real opponent is long overdue.
“It definitely feels good (to be this close to game day),” senior point guard Marcus Garrett said. “I just can’t wait to get out there and just compete.”