LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Chris Mack is back, and so is his Louisville basketball team. The school announced on Super Bowl Sunday that the coach had contracted COVID-19, and he has been involved with his team from afar since then.
The Cardinals have not played a game in two weeks, since scrapping a scheduled Feb. 3 game at Syracuse when they found out the night before that a player had tested positive. One minute the coaches were together in a board room and the next they were finding players in the hotel and telling them to quarantine.
Four days later, Mack learned he had tested positive. The team won’t be at full strength when Syracuse visits the KFC Yum! Center Wednesday evening at 6:30. Mack only returned to practices in person on Tuesday, and still sounded a bit weak when he spoke with reporters on Tuesday, still appearing just a tad out of breath when he talked for long stretches.
Assistant coach Dino Gaudio said the Cardinals would be down at least one player when they take the court Wednesday. They will have Mack, but he, too, is still recovering. He said his experience with the virus wasn’t easy.
“First three or four days, pretty sick,” Mack said, recalling his experience in isolation. “I'm just trying to get back to being myself here. It's been weird just sitting here in the basement for 10 days and don't see the light of day. Yeah, it's been strange.”
Mack’s wife, Kristi, sent his meals down to the basement and, this week, she and the kids left for a volleyball tournament, allowing the coach to emerge from his basement bunker, which Mack called, “a welcome relief.”
“I think the first three or four days really had nothing to do with anything other than trying to get better,” Mack said. “I could've been anywhere and I didn't feel very well. The last maybe four or five days drove me stir crazy a bit. I tried to dedicate my time to preparing for Syracuse and preparing for practices and worrying about the next one, and quite honestly just trying to get stronger.”
Mack also is concerned with the strength of his team after two weeks. When they went on pause, it was still in the middle of the season. Now they’re coming back and it’s the home stretch, with only six scheduled games remaining before the ACC Tournament.
“Obviously, the spotlight grows brighter,” Mack said. “We'll talk about the tournament, talk about the end of the year a lot more. But as a coach -- and hopefully the players -- you always have that sense of urgency. It really is hard to believe we have only six regular season games scheduled right now, which is strange, but this whole season's been that.”
While in quarantine, Mack talked to plenty of people, including other coaches, about their experience with quarantine. And he shared his own. The last time Louisville resumed after a layoff, it was blown out at Wisconsin, while playing without point guard Carlik Jones. That won’t be the case this time.
Mack said a lot of the battle is mental, just keeping the morale of the team up in a strange situation. Clemson coach Brad Brownell said he thought that was a big key.
“Just trying to keep your team's spirit, I think, was the biggest message from Brad,” Mack said. “I think he felt like his team was on a really good uptick and were heading to North Carolina. They already had that monkey off their back from winning the previous year at North Carolina. And then the wheels sort of fell off and he felt like his guys kind of lost that spirit. So he kind of talked about things that we could do, and having a good temperature of your team, how they feel coming in, and doing things to keep that spirit up. It's a challenge, when guys think they have a game on the schedule, and it's postponed, and then the next two or three are as well. It's a challenge, but it's a challenge that a lot of programs around the country have faced.”
Gaudio has been filling in for Mack, and in general, Mack said that players have been able to keep working out more during this pause than they were able to in December, when the team went nine days without being in the gym. He’s now hoping that the Cardinals can pick up quickly for the sprint to the finish.
Mack said he doesn’t know if any of the postponed games will be made up.
“There’s a ton of urgency,” Louisville sophomore Samuell Williamson said. “This is where it gets fun towards the end of the season, the home stretch. Like I said, one of the positives from the last couple of weeks being off, we've been able to get our legs under this a little bit and have a little rest, which could be a good thing heading into this home stretch. But we're excited and like I said, this is where it gets fun, heading into March. This is what we work all year for.”
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