From ‘Call of Duty’ to the joys of fresh air, Utah Jazz recount their first days in the bubble

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) finds himself in a tight spot as the Utah Jazz host the Denver Nuggets in their NBA basketball game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.

Mike Conley has gotten so unaccustomed to traveling over these past few months that when he woke up in his room in the Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs Resort on Thursday morning, “I thought I was in Utah.”

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for Conley and the Utah Jazz, who were among the first teams to arrive in the NBA bubble inside the Disney World campus near Orlando, and who practiced together Thursday for the first time in months.

Conley said that after the team was cleared to leave their rooms following their second negative test for COVID-19, they immediately headed straight to the training room to get taped up for practice. That session now over, the point guard said on a Zoom call afterward that he and his teammates were looking forward to finally being able to look around their new temporary home.

“I know guys are anxious just to get out of their rooms and get some fresh air, move around a little bit, and see what’s going on,” Conley said.

The Jazz wound up quarantining for about a day and a half, all told.

Even for the well-adjusted and well-prepared, that amount of time was a little difficult.

“Obviously, staying in your room for 36 hours is not the best thing to do,” center Rudy Gobert said.

He said that he spent his time either playing “Call of Duty,” reading, or sleeping.

“I’m glad that now we can see the sunlight,” Gobert added.

Conley said most of the players stayed in contact during the quarantine either via video games or through text messages.

Coach Quin Snyder, meanwhile, did not cop to any late-night “Call of Duty” co-ops, claiming instead that the bulk of his isolation was devoted to preparing “very methodically, intentionally.”

Perhaps even a little too much so.

“Having — how many hours? — 36 hours-plus by yourself, you gotta be careful not to overthink too many things, which I may have a tendency to do,” Snyder said with a slight grin.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment for everyone involved.

Given that, Conley said, any complaints out there about the menu or the amenities are simply the byproduct of players trying to get accustomed to their new and drastically different reality.

“Everything’s new, man. They had to try to throw this thing together and get us on the court as safely as possible and the best way possible, so I know they’re doing the best they can,” he said. “Obviously, we can get used to one thing, but food is food at the end of the day, and I think guys are just getting used to it and trying to adjust. I think this whole situation that we’re in right now is just about who’s gonna adjust quickest and not make excuses and go out there and make do with what we got.”

That process of adjusting also took place on the court, as Utah was booked on the “Coronado 1” court between 5-8 p.m. EST on Thursday, and used a little more than two hours of that time. Reserve forward Georges Niang was the only player on the team’s injury report (despite left ankle soreness, he still went through the majority of practice). Everyone else was a full participant.

“It felt great to be back out there. I felt like everyone was really locked in. Everything was very positive and we just went right through it,” Gobert said. “It was a long practice, but coach did a great job of talking to us and making sure we get our good habits back. It’s going to be a process, but I really liked the mindset we had today.”

Conley noted that the first 10-15 minutes of the session saw Snyder allow players to get after it and play physically, just to get right to it after going non-contact pretty much since the league shut down on March 11.

Snyder said that his primary aim for the initial practice was mostly to enable the players to once again “play together and start to get a feel not just for what we do as a team, but for one another — that just takes a little time.”

Beyond that, he was specifically looking to simulate some game-shot scenarios, and also to test the players’ level of conditioning.

“Guys had great energy, guys came back in shape,” Conley said. “Nobody was hands on knees — none of that.”

Whether everyone proves mentally in shape, too — capable of handling the prospect of potentially being inside the bubble for multiple months — remains to be seen.

Asked what thought he’d given to trying to prepare his players for that, Snyder mentioned that getting over the initial acclimation shock, followed by getting players back into working on the social justice causes that dominated their attention on the outside would go a long way.

“There is an appreciation on the part of the players — and, I know, the coaches — but particularly the players, that although this is a sacrifice, there’s opportunities to do some good things,” Snyder said. “I think everybody’s aware of what those sacrifices are that players have made, whether it’s the bubble and whatnot, to do something that I think is bigger than all of us.”