Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Champions Classic: Despite positive COVID tests by Gonzaga, St. Joe’s, Bill Self not worried about Kansas; David McCormack ‘nicked up’ ahead of Kentucky game
By ADAM ZAGORIA
Kansas has played two basketball games this season and both opponents have been connected to positive COVID tests.
Yet despite the cases at Gonzaga and St. Joe’s, Jayhawks coach Bill Self says he’s not overly concerned about his own team’s health heading into Tuesday’s Champions Classic matchup with Kentucky in Indianapolis.
“I’m really not [concerned] any more than I would be any other time,” Self said Monday on a Zoom call. “This is going to be a year where you could potentially be worried about everything that potentially could happen because there are going to be things that happen all the time. I know that we tested Saturday evening and I know the tests were all negative. I know our medical staff has worked with Kentucky’s medical staff and they’ve done all the contact tracing and all these medical things…
“In this particular situation, I think all the medical people feel pretty comfortable with this,” Self added.
No. 1 Gonzaga beat No. 6 Kansas on Thanksgiving in Fort Myers, Fla., and then topped Auburn a day later. Kansas beat St. Joe’s on Friday.
After the Auburn game, Gonzaga coach Mark Fewannounced that one player and one staff member had tested positive for COVID. While some teams in some states would have faced a 14-day pause in activities, the Zags were permitted to play the Auburn game by Florida health officials.
“We followed the COVID protocols of the tournament and the Florida health board down here, they’ve all been great,” Few said. “It’s been very professional. Our guys have been incredibly diligent about following all the rules. We’ve taken PCR tests, the gold standard, and we react to whatever happens after the tests. I think it’s going to be like that all year.”
On Saturday, a day after playing Kansas, St. Joe’s paused all team activities for 14 days due to a positive COVID test result among the program’s “Tier 1” personnel.
KANSAS BIG MAN McCORMACK ‘NICKED UP’
Kansas junior big man David McCormack is banged up heading into the Kentucky game and a matchup with grad transfer Oliver Sarr. He wore a knee brace starting the second half against St. Joe’s.
“He’s OK,” Self said. “He did not practice Saturday. He did minimal, minimal stuff Sunday but we hope he can do more today and go be ready for [Tuesday]. He’s nicked up a little bit but I don’t think it’s anything from a structural standpoint that’s going to keep him from being out there and competing.”
McCormack is averaging 8.0 points and 4.5 rebounds through two games while shooting 33 percent from the field. Gonzaga big man Drew Timme lit him up for 25 points and 6 rebounds.
Self said McCormack has maybe been thinking too much about trying to replace departed big man Udoka Azubuike.
“I think he’s been fine, you know he’s got the best attitude,” Self said. “I think he just put too much pressure on himself….I pumped him up pretty good about all these things I thought he could do and then in his mind he’s probably got a little bit of, “I gotta be as good as Dok, or I gotta be better than Dok’ and these type of things going on in his mind.
“I just think he put too much pressure on himself. He’s just gotta be able to relax and go be who he is, because who is is a terrific offensive player, a very, very good rebounder and certainly a guy that can certainly be a better low-post defensive presence, too.”
BOTH TEAMS ARE ‘DANGEROUS’
While Kentucky is coming off a loss to Richmond on Sunday and Kansas lost to the Zags, Self said neither team is what they will be later in the year.
“The reality is we’re not the team we will be and Kentucky’s not the team they will be and this particular game will be such a prideful game that I know that our guys are really looking forward to competing against them and I know their guys will as well,” Self said “And we’re both a little bit wounded right now and usually wounded animals are really dangeorus so we know they’ll play well.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.