Washington men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins spoke publicly Tuesday night for the first time since the Huskies suspended activities due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program.
On his weekly radio show on KJR, Hopkins said several players were placed into a 10-day quarantine, but did not specify how many players tested positive for the virus. He added no one has suffered a serious illness.
“We’re thankful and grateful and thank the Lord upstairs that we’re all able to get through this at least healthy,” Hopkins said. “That’s really the biggest thing. Thank the Lord.”
Washington has seven players in COVID-19 protocols, according to a Los Angeles Times report last week that cited an anonymous source.
The Huskies have been unable to practice due to a shortage of healthy players, which forced UW to postpone last Thursday’s Pac-12 opener at No. 11 Arizona to Jan. 25 and forfeit Sunday’s much-anticipated showdown against No. 4 UCLA.
Washington became the first Division I team this season to forfeit a game due to COVID.
A UW spokesperson said last week the entire roster and staff was fully vaccinated before the start of the season.
“For the kids, it’s disappointing,” Hopkins said. “You practice hard to get opportunities like this to play such an incredible schedule against great teams.
“But on the flip side, the COVID thing is real. … You get a really good perspective when stuff like this happens. For us it was obviously disappointing for the games, but we were just lucky that the people who do have COVID, that they’re OK. That was the first concern. A really tough time, but the kids are pretty resilient, have been really positive and hopefully get a chance to play at some point.”
Hopkins was also noncommittal on if Washington (4-5) would be able to play 2 p.m. Sunday at No. 5 Gonzaga (7-2).
When asked about the Bulldogs, Hopkins said: “They’ve been the pride of the West Coast for a long time. They’ve had great teams. They were No. 1 for a long time this season already. It’s always a great opportunity.
“Hopefully, we’re healthy enough to go down there and play. When you get a chance to play a team of that caliber, it’s always a great opportunity. Playing at a place that has a great home court. That’s why you love to play these games and having those opportunities.”
In June 2019, UW and GU finalized a four-year deal to extend their cross-state series until the 2023-24 season.
For the first eight decades, Washington played the role of the big brother that routinely beat the upstarts from the little school in Spokane while compiling a 28-6 record in a series that began in 1910.
In the past 20 years, the Zags have ascended to national prominence while the Huskies have recently fallen to the bottom of the Pac-12. In accordance, Gonzaga has dominated its cross-state rivalry with Washington, winning 13 of the last 14 games, including six in a row.
Following a 97-70 blowout defeat in Hopkins’ first year in 2017, the Huskies came up short 81-79 in 2018 and lost 83-76 in 2019.
In 2020, Washington and Gonzaga mutually agreed to not play due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s uncertain if the virus will wipe out UW’s biggest game of the season for a second straight year.
Hopkins was vague on when the Huskies would return to the court.
By comparison, the UW women’s basketball team shut down for two weeks and missed four games last season after positive COVID-19 cases.
“We’re following protocols and just trying to create the safest environment and do everything by the book,” Hopkins said. “We’re obviously not allowed to practice right now. They want to have few people in the gym, but you still provide an environment where they can come in and get some shots in a safe environment. Lift and try to keep up their conditioning for the people that don’t have it. That’s been a challenge.
“We’re obviously trying to stay positive. The staff has done a great job of really keeping these guys excited to get better. That’s always been our thing. Whoever is there and whoever can practice, we’re just trying to become the best that we can be. If it’s a team environment, which we haven’t had, then it becomes an individual piece and working on their skills to try to educate them to become the best they can be. That’s really the focus. Nothing changes. It just becomes more individual than it does become team.”
Washington is scheduled to host Seattle University on Dec. 18 and Utah Valley on Dec. 21.