KU freshman Jalen Wilson on track to arrive in Indianapolis Monday morning
photo by: Associated Press
Indianapolis — The Kansas men’s basketball team expects to have redshirt freshman forward Jalen Wilson back with the team on Monday morning, and KU coach Bill Self said that if Wilson is with the team, he will suit up and play.
“If he’s here, he’s suiting up,” Self said Sunday. “And I anticipate him getting in the game.”
The third-seeded Jayhawks, who will face No. 6 seed USC at 8:40 p.m. at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Monday night, will practice at 11:30 a.m. Monday.
Because of that, Self said KU planned to get Wilson to Indianapolis by 9:30 or 10 a.m. so he could go through KU’s practice, spend the day with the team and then run through pregame shoot-around, as well.
“I don’t know how much he’ll play,” Self said. “He’s going to be rusty, he’s going to be fatigued and he’s going to be far less than 100%. But he can rebound the ball and do some things, so he may play three minutes, he may play 10 minutes, he may play 15. I don’t know.”
If the whole scenario feels a little like déjà vu, that’s because the Jayhawks (21-8) just went through it with big man David McCormack, who was away from the team for 11 days and rejoined them Friday ahead of KU’s Round 1 win over Eastern Washington on Saturday.
Self said the extra day of getting re-acclimated helped McCormack, who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes during KU’s first-round victory. Self said Saturday that McCormack participated for about 70% of the time during Friday’s practice.
“You could tell with his conditioning and everything he really didn’t have lingering side effects,” Self said of McCormack. “We don’t know what it will be like with Jalen.”
Wilson, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, March 12, has been isolated in Lawrence ever since, keeping in touch with his coaches and teammates via cell phone and video calls.
Asked if his team having gone through a bit of a scramble with McCormack out and then back could help their adjustment to getting Wilson back, Self said that remained to be seen.
“With the COVID stuff, I don’t really see it being a huge advantage because I think each individual is different,” he said.
Per guidelines, Self said Wilson, and McCormack, will not be subject to testing for the rest of the team’s stay in Indianapolis because they had contracted COVID-19 in the last 90 days.
Because the Jayhawks now have been in the NCAA Tournament bubble in Indianapolis for a full week, Self said they’re moving forward feeling good about the health of their team.
“I don’t want to sound remotely indifferent about it,” he said. “But the hay’s in the barn, guys. If we contracted something, it was something before we got here.”
That does not mean the uneasiness that comes with each COVID-19 test has disappeared entirely.
“Yeah, we’re nervous,” Self said. “We’re nervous every time that we stick that Q-tip up our nose and wait on the results. Every team is right now.”
But he also has learned enough about the impact of testing and time to think that the longer teams are in Indianapolis the more likely it is that they’ll remain COVID-free because of the strict rules the NCAA implemented for this year’s tournament.
“I would think that there would be some relief, if you can get through a couple more days with all teams, that we would say, ‘OK, with the teams that are able to advance, there’s been enough time go by that we feel like the bubble has protected us.”
With Wilson expected to return on Monday, KU will move forward just one man down. Sophomore guard Tristan Enaruna, who tested positive last week, remains in quarantine in Lawrence and will not be able to rejoin the team until sometime next week if the Jayhawks advance.
Still, McCormack’s big game on Saturday and the expectations of Wilson’s return on Monday have KU encouraged about the direction their roster is headed.
“Next guy up has always kind of been our mantra,” KU senior Mitch Lightfoot said Sunday. “We’re good with what we’ve got, and when we get back the guys that have been out, that’s even better. And I think we’re looking forward to them coming back. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to play with what we’ve got and we’re going to continue to fight with what we’ve got.”