HUNTINGTON — More than four months ago, Marshall’s men’s and women’s basketball season was cut short as COVID-19 reached pandemic status, thus canceling all sports in March.
Since that time, the Thundering Herd basketball teams have not been able to take the court at the Cam Henderson Center for its normal open gyms during the summer or offseason workouts because the facility was not opened by the campus for student-athlete activities.
Next week, however, that all change. Marshall’s men’s and women’s basketball players have returned to town and are going through proper protocols in preparation for mandatory summer activities.
“I’m eager to get back to some sort of normal,” men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to watch everything you are doing, though, so it’s not easy.”
Over the weekend, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick confirmed there would be more rounds of COVID-19 testing for student-athletes this week, and men’s and women’s basketball players were included in Monday’s testing. The hope is that testing results come back favorable and the teams can get underway soon after.
Both men’s and women’s basketball players arrived in Huntington by July 20, which was the first day made available by the NCAA Division I Council for mandatory summer access by teams. Per Marshall’s COVID-19 protocol, upon arrival in Huntington, student-athletes had to go through a seven-day isolation period before Monday’s testing.
They will then isolate further until testing results return.
Under NCAA rules, the mandatory summer access period allows for eight hours a week of countable athletic activities, which is broken up into four hours of basketball instruction and four hours of weight training.
According to Marshall women’s basketball coach Tony Kemper, the Herd women’s team will begin on Thursday night if players are cleared for workouts. However, D’Antoni said the men’s team would likely wait until Aug. 3 to start its summer access due to the completion of a refinishing project at the Cam Henderson Center floor.
While each of Marshall’s basketball programs could have brought back players on July 10 to go through protocol and hit the floor on July 20 — the first day allowable by the NCAA — Kemper said bringing them back on July 20 was strategic and in the best interest of players.
Due to tightened restrictions surrounding travel and the quarantine process per university policy after traveling from certain states, it is feasible that players may not get to go home prior to Christmas, which is why the additional time was given before returning those student-athletes to campus.
“It was thought out on our part,” Kemper said. “We didn’t want to bring them in because we knew they couldn’t go home once we did. They needed that time.”
While workouts will be getting underway within the next week for both programs, they will be vastly different than in the past.
D’Antoni confirmed that changes in coaching methods and safety measures will show themselves immediately with players being split into groups and sanitation of basketballs being constant from staff on-site between drills.
“We’re not bringing them in all at one time and we’re using separate locker rooms,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll space them out and during the first two weeks, we won’t have any actual body-on-body. We’ll make sure they stay spaced the best we can.”
The NCAA Division I Council’s calendar included for up to eight weeks of mandatory summer athletics activities, lasting until Sept. 15 or until the school’s first day of classes.