Return to basketball slow and meticulous

Both basketball teams returned to campus for voluntary workouts Monday. Women’s coach Jose Fernandez (above) isn’t sure when his European players will be able to enter the U.S. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

A week after football began its slow return to campus, USF basketball followed suit. Both the men’s and women’s teams began voluntary on-campus workouts Monday.

But basketball’s return is much different, especially with the recent increase in coronavirus cases in Florida. The total number of cases in the state since the start of the pandemic grew to over 80,000 cases after a sharp spike earlier this week.

“I think we’ve gotten, what, 1,300 cases, 1,400 cases in the last couple days in Florida. That seems to be a problem,” women’s coach Jose Fernandez said.

As cases in the state continue to rise, meticulous caution has been the theme for both camps at the Muma Basketball Center.

The check-in process is similar to the process for football players and staff.

“Our Muma center is set up where they come in through the entrance and they would see a sports medicine athletic trainer and the nutritionist, answer a list of questions, do a temperature check,” Fernandez said.

The difference is how workouts are rotated. Because there are two teams rotating in and out of the building, careful planning had to be made to ensure an easy system of rotation.

“There’s a flowchart through the practice facility,” Fernandez said.

Only a handful of players are allowed to work out at a time and rotate between the gym, training room and weight room. Each group is given approximately 45 minutes to train in each area, and there’s a 15-minute disinfecting period before the next group is rotated in.

“No more than four guys at a time in either the weight room or in the gym,” men’s coach Brian Gregory said. “The gym can handle a little more but since they’re going right to the weight room, we decided to keep it at four right now.”

Players can get their hands on a basketball, but they’re assigned one and a basket. The extent of basketball-related drills are limited but still present. 

But similar to football workouts, coaches aren’t allowed to be involved.

“Men’s or women’s basketball, we’re still not allowed to do anything with our student-athletes so there’s no summer access,” Fernandez said. “Myself or coach Gregory or their staff, we can’t even see them work out on their own individually.”

As time goes on, there will be more opportunities for coaches to be involved and more student-athletes will be phased into the workout rotation. The hope is that the teams will be back later in the summer.

“Over the next three weeks, our goal is by the start of Summer B, which is that last week of June, first week of July that we’ll have the entire team here,” Gregory said.

But women’s basketball faces a unique situation. The team has 10 European players on its roster, and a U.S. travel ban on most European countries means they’re unlikely to come back in the next few weeks. Once permitted back in the United States, those players would have to self-isolate for 14 days.

The status on the return of foreign players is up in the air, according to Fernandez.

“We’re in a waiting game,” he said.

Despite teams not being able to train at their full capacity, the start of individual workouts is the start to bringing back college basketball. 

It’s a long road ahead, but being able to do something basketball-related is appreciated, according to Gregory.

“I think not only me as the head coach but my staff and our guys are excited to get back to work in as much as we can do right now,” he said.