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Utah had nine players test positive, but everyone available for Thursday basketball opener vs. Washington

(Michael Mangum | Special to The Tribune) Utah Utes guard Rylan Jones (15) drives with the ball during their game against the Brigham Young Cougars at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

The NCAA is suggesting, but not mandating a 14-day shutdown for basketball programs when a player, coach, or other essential personnel tests positive for COVID-19.

So, when the University of Utah men’s basketball team began dealing with a virus outbreak earlier this month, head coach Larry Krystkowiak, athletic director Mark Harlan and medical personnel had a decision to make.

Everyone filled out an extensive survey, contact tracing began, and it was determined that the positive tests came from six players living in one house and three in another, not from a practice setting.

Had the outbreak been traced back to a practice setting, a 14-day shutdown may have been more likely. Instead, those affected were quarantined, and everyone else continued forward in a limited fashion.

“A decision could be made to allow those that weren’t in those homes to continue doing their job,” said Krystkowiak, who himself contracted COVID-19 and showed symptoms, but was well enough to exit a 10-day quarantine on Friday. “We had guys living independently at home and in the dorms, so I think that’s probably what separated us, our ability to prove that it’s pretty obvious in our minds that our infections either took place in those cars heading back to the houses or while they were at the houses. Through some of that data, I think it was evident that that was the case.”

With the Utah athletic department working under CDC guidelines, Krystkowiak noted that any player that has tested positive does not have to test again for 90 days. An athletic department spokesman confirmed that a student athlete who tests positive does not have to test again for 90 days.

SEASON OPENER

UTAH VS. WASHINGTON

At the Huntsman Center


When • Thursday, 4 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Network

Utah has emerged from its COVID-19 outbreak, with full practice having started back up on Friday ahead of the Utes’ Thursday-afternoon opener vs. Washington (4 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). Sophomore point guard Rylan Jones told reporters earlier Thursday that everyone has been available for practice.

Krystkowiak took that a step further by saying he expects to have everyone available Thursday for the Huskies, who are 0-2 following a listless neutral-court loss to UC Riverside on Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas. The Utes had a clean sheet after testing on Tuesday. They will test Wednesday morning, then again Thursday morning before being allowed to take the floor.

“Those guys went and quarantined for 10 days, didn’t do anything,” said Jones, a productive 28-game starter for Krystkowiak last season as a freshman. “Some of us were still able to be here, work out and then we came back to practice last Monday, I believe. We had almost everybody back and we just did a lot of skill, trying to get people back in shape. We started building it up Tuesday and Wednesday, just trying to get back in shape.”

Jones and Krystkowiak were both realistic Tuesday that, given the virus outbreak and the lack of practice time, Utah will not be in peak shape in time to play an opponent, let alone a conference opponent that will have already played twice.

The answer to that problem is, Krystkowiak is likely to go to a long bench, or at least longer than he might normally. The Utes are returning seven players from a year ago who played at least 15.2 minutes per game.

Take those seven, plus a handful of new additions including freshmen guard Pelle Larsson and Ian Martinez, and the Utes could go 11 or even 12-deep. That is unlikely to be the norm, but that will be a necessity in the early going as they find their legs coming out of the virus stoppage.

“We haven’t been as deep the past few years,” Krystkowiak said. “The times that we’re going to have to play guys 36, 38 minutes are probably a thing of the past because we do have a deeper team. That should be a positive for us, and I hope our players understand that.”

Pac-12 releases basketball testing protocols

The Pac-12 on Tuesday morning released testing protocols for men’s and women’s basketball.

Before playing in a Pac-12 building, nonconference opponents will have to test a minimum of four times leading up to the game, including on game day.

The NCAA is already recommending thrice-weekly testing on non-consecutive days, which the respective nonconference schools are responsible for. The fourth test on game day will be administered by the Pac-12 host.

One other basketball sticking point is at least seven scholarship players and one coach must be available to play a game. On Tuesday morning, the Pac-12 announced the postponement of Wednesday’s Colorado-Arizona game in Tucson, citing the fact that the Buffaloes cannot meet the seven-player minimum. Right behind the Pac-12 announcement, the Colorado athletic department announced it was temporarily pausing all men’s basketball activities as further testing and contact-tracing protocols play out this week.

UTAH BASKETBALL’S COVID-19 TIMELINE


Nov. 13: Per Utah athletic director Mark Harlan, multiple antigen tests came back positive that morning, with PCR tests administered behind it. How many PCR tests came back positive was never made public.


Nov. 16: On his weekly ESPN700 show, Larry Krystkowiak says those not affected by COVID are doing individual drills with the hope of returning to practice two days later.


Nov. 19: A Utah athletic department spokesman tells The Salt Lake Tribune the program is “awaiting more clarity regarding testing” before getting back to full practice.


Nov. 20: CBS Sports reports the Utes are “pausing for the foreseeable future due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the program.” The athletic department would not confirm CBS Sports’ reporting, but multiple sources told The Tribune that night that there have been multiple positive COVID-19 tests recently.


Nov. 23: Krystkowiak reveals on ESPN 700 that he has contracted COVID-19, while multiple sources tell The Tribune the number of positive cases inside the program is “at least nine.” Krystkowiak said Tuesday evening that nine players living in two off-campus houses is where the program positives resided. An hour before Krystkowiak’s show, Utah announces its scheduled Nov. 25 opener vs. New Orleans, which was first reported by The Tribune, is canceled, while Dec. 3 vs. Washington is the new opener.


Nov. 27: An athletic department spokesman tells The Tribune that Krystkowiak has exited quarantine, and the team will practice fully that day. The full practice appears to be the program’s first since at least Nov. 12.


Dec. 1: On a Zoom call with reporters, sophomore point guard Rylan Jones says everyone is back practicing, while Krystkowiak said later in the day he expects everyone to be available for the opener.


Dec. 3: Scheduled opener vs. Washington at the Huntsman Center.


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