UMass men’s basketball back on pause due to contact tracing protocols

Minutemen were scheduled to play VCU on Wednesday

By Dan McGee, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts men’s basketball program is pausing team activity due to contact tracing protocols related to COVID-19. The Minutemen (5-4, 5-4 Atlantic 10) were scheduled to play at Virginia Commonwealth on Jan. 27.

“Due to contact tracing protocols and out of an abundance of caution, the Atlantic 10 Conference men’s basketball game between Massachusetts and VCU, originally scheduled for Wednesday, January 27, has been postponed,” the team said in a press release. “The Atlantic 10 will work with both institutions to attempt to reschedule the game for a later date.

“UMass men’s basketball program activity will pause until further notice.”

The Minutemen had already paused team activities from Nov. 17 until Dec. 6 after a positive COVID-19 case occurred on the team. Per head coach Matt McCall, no players on the UMass roster have currently tested positive.

“Today up until 12 o’clock was just VCU, VCU, VCU,” McCall said. “I think the health and safety of our players and our program and everyone involved is the most important thing and will always continue to be the most important thing.”

Though fortunately no players have tested positive this time around, considerable contact tracing and testing needs to be done before the program can return to normal activities. UMass is currently slated to play George Mason on Jan. 30.

“It’s still a moving target,” McCall said of when team activities can resume. “We’ve got to sort through the next 48 hours before we can determine if we can play this weekend.”

The silver lining of Wednesday’s cancellation and pause is that it gives the Minutemen roster time to heal up. Star center Tre Mitchell exited Sunday’s contest against Davidson early with a shoulder injury. Dibaji Walker and Noah Fernandes are both battling wrist injuries of various severities while Kolton Mitchell remains in concussion protocol.

“Dibaji’s hurting, he’s battling through his wrist injury right now,” McCall said. “It’s not one of those things he can injure anymore, by playing he can’t get hurt anymore. It’ll most likely require something being done in the offseason to feel 100 percent healthy again.”

“There’s a few guys who are dealing with it, but as of 12 o’clock today we were [supposed to be] getting on an airplane to play VCU. Those guys are tough and want to be out there competing.”

UMass had been planning to host a 2:30 p.m. practice and take an evening flight to Richmond today before having to pause all team activities.

Other Atlantic 10 programs, including Saint Louis, have had to undergo similar program pauses. The Billikens will play tonight in their first game since Dec. 23 after a team coronavirus outbreak. Amidst cancellations and postponements, the unusual nature of the 2020-21 season will undoubtedly affect the structure of the A-10 tournament, though no exact details have been released yet.

“You just try to stay as positive as possible, no pun intended,” McCall said. “It just is what it is. We’ve gotten some games in, we’ve been able to compete. You just have to take it one day at a time and make sure that mentally we are keeping our guys in the best place we possibly can.”

Dan McGee can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TheDanMcGee.