Christmas and New Year’s were already long gone, but Thursday felt like a holiday for the Villanova Wildcats.
Villanova returned to practice for the first time since Jan. 3 in preparation for their first game in almost a month against Seton Hall on Tuesday. It was the team’s first day back after back-to-back COVID-related pauses, which left them off the court since a Dec. 23 game against Marquette.
While Jay Wright called himself “the happiest guy in the world” in reference to finally getting back to work with his team, the ‘Cats are not yet back at full strength and might still have to make due without some key players against Kevin Willard’s team.
After practice, Wright revealed that Caleb Daniels and Jermaine Samuels were the two players who tested positive for the coronavirus in the latest shutdown. In doing so, he implicitly ruled out that the later cancellation of the January 15th game against UConn occurred because of additional positive tests to players.
While Daniels and Samuels are out of quarantine right now, the issue in regard to getting them ready to play Tuesday is that they are not permitted to practice or otherwise start to get back into game-shape until the testing for myocarditis is done, and as Wright explained, they cannot get tested for myocarditis “until 14 days after their positive test.”
Clearing Daniels and Samuels for Tuesday “is based on: when do we get the results back from the testing on Monday?” Wright explained. “If we get the results back, which I think we can, then we will know if they’re available to play on Tuesday, and I think we’ll get the tests back, obviously they gotta pass the tests. Then the next thing would be, what can we do with them between now and then just to move ‘em around. Like, do we move practice ‘til after we get the tests back? That’s stuff we’re looking at.”
Even if it is decided that Samuels and Daniels can play Tuesday and they are able to practice Monday, Wright has to navigate using two key players who still won’t have gotten back to full strength.
“Where are we there and how do they feel,” Wright said. “How many minutes can you play them after two weeks?”
Wright and his staff are getting some help in this area from advanced technology, specifically in how comparing a player’s heart rate to their own past data points can help get a better grasp on their conditioning.
“Even though we know they haven’t practiced,” Wright said. “Is their heart rate good? Myocarditis, are they fine? Then, alright, what can they do in a game after fourteen days. Can you go two minute spurts? Who knows.”
Eric Dixon and Daniels also suffered small injuries (achilles and calf, respectively) during the one practice the team had in between quarantine periods. Wright says Dixon is still “not 100 percent,” but that while they’re “bringing [him] back slowly,” Wright “would guess... he could be in good shape for Tuesday.” Wright is less sure of Daniels’ status, saying that he would have a better idea in “a couple days.”
In more decidedly positive injury news, Bryan Antoine is back practicing with the team after his latest setback.
“He actually had a couple days of practice before our Marquette game,” Wright said. “So, this poor kid, then we come back from Marquette and we’re in quarantine again. So now, he doesn't do anything, right? He practiced, he’s good. I mean, basically, the guy hasn’t played since September, so we’re trying to get him back.”
Wright also said that Antoine will at least dress on Tuesday so that the team can field enough scholarship players - “at this point, it’s bodies. He’s healthy, and he’s available” - but he also said that Antoine may or may not actually log minutes Tuesday based on who else in available as well as how he is progressing getting back in rhythm with the team.
“Does he know the plays?” Wright laughed. “The guy hasn’t practiced... and who’s available. Both will be factors.”
As long as Samuels and Daniels test negative for any issues on Monday, the ‘Cats should practice normally after Tuesday and return more or less to full strength on Friday against Providence.
Hopefully, this was the last of the Wildcats’ misfortunes with COVID-19.