Men’s basketball recovers from COVID-19 cases, regroups for nonconference rematch
Members of No. 5 UCLA men’s basketball gather in a huddle ahead of the team’s game against No. 4 Gonzaga on Nov. 23. The Bruins will return to the court for the first time in nearly a month when they take on Long Beach State on Thursday. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)
Long Beach State
Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
By Jon Christon
Jan. 5, 2022 2:15 p.m.
This post was updated Jan. 5 at 9:59 p.m.
Dec. 15 marked the beginning.
Four days after traveling to Milwaukee and back for a win over Marquette, No. 5 UCLA men’s basketball (8-1, 1-0 Pac-12) coach Mick Cronin said he knew something was wrong. Cronin was tested that morning for COVID-19, returning the team’s first positive test after having zero cases a season ago.
“They’ve decided to call me Rudy Gobert,” Cronin said.
Like the Utah Jazz center who was the first NBA player to test positive in March 2020, Cronin was just the first domino to fall. In the five days after the coach’s positive test, more than 10 players and staff came down with the virus.
The Bruins either postponed or canceled their next five games after the Marquette win because of COVID-19 protocols within the program and did not practice for more than 10 days. Mo Ostin Basketball Center remained closed during that stretch, with Los Angeles County and UCLA protocols shutting it down after the spike in positive tests.
The Bruins had three of their scholarship players not test positive for the virus.
“COVID caught up to us,” said junior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Without a court to play on or a facility to work out in, many Bruins had to get creative in their respective quarantines.
Senior guard Jules Bernard said he spent his time in his apartment doing bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups and squats, between Zoom team meetings. Like Bernard, Jaquez said he worked out in his apartment during the time off, in addition to bringing back some pre-pandemic hobbies.
“I hopped back on Fortnite,” Jaquez said. “I used to play in high school and a little bit when I was a freshman. I stopped playing video games for a while and then as soon as quarantine hit, I just picked up Fortnite again.”
Jaquez and the Bruins have since returned to the court after a little over a week of apartment workouts and video games. The team was slowly able to return to the court after a round of testing after Christmas, holding its first practice since the Dec. 27 shutdown with only four scholarship players.
“We tried to run one sprint – we did some half-court drills and tried to run a sprint – and had some guys throwing up in the garbage can,” Cronin said.
UCLA now has all 11 usual active players healthy and available as the team is set to resume its season later in the week.
Bernard said the team is once again starting to feel whole after some initial practice struggles.
“Coming back, it was kind of tough – legs were feeling a little weird,” Bernard said. “But throughout the workouts that we kept going through with Coach, we sort of built our conditioning up, and now we’re back to practicing normally.”
Entering Tuesday, the Bruins were one thing away from ending their hiatus: an opponent.
“I know it would be a loss, but I’d take the Lakers at this point,” Cronin said Tuesday morning. “Our guys want to play – they’ve grown sick of me again.”
Cronin and his team got their wish Tuesday night.
UCLA will now play a home game against Long Beach State (3-7) on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The game will take place without fans because of COVID-19 precautions and will mark the second time the Bruins and Beach have faced off this year, with the blue and gold winning the previous matchup 100-79.
The game against Long Beach State takes the place of UCLA’s Wednesday matchup against Arizona State, which was postponed because of COVID-19 protocols within the Sun Devils’ program.
After its game against Long Beach State, UCLA will resume its conference season with a matchup against California on Saturday. It is also tentatively set to play No. 8 Arizona on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times, with matchups against Oregon and Oregon State scheduled for Jan. 13 and Jan. 15, respectively.
However, both the Ducks and Beavers have postponed their most recent games because of COVID-19 protocols, putting their matchups against the Bruins in jeopardy.
Cronin said UCLA may try to replace those contests with a matchup against No. 7 USC but added that rescheduling conference games is a different process than usual. Whereas schools can schedule nonconference games on their own, the Pac-12 schedules all contests between two member schools.