UWM doing the best it can dealing with the effects COVID-19 has had on its schedule
What will the next week or so hold for the UW-Milwaukee Panthers?
Considering how much COVID-19 has disrupted the program to this point, it's anyone's guess.
"Our guys want to play, but it’s getting stranger by the week," coach Pat Baldwin said on Sunday with a chuckle.
UWM returned to Milwaukee early Sunday afternoon after a trip to the Pittsburgh area was the latest — and strongest — reminder of just how tenuous playing basketball in a pandemic can be.
The Panthers' Horizon League host, Robert Morris, lost three starters to positive COVID-19 tests leading into Friday's game — news that delayed and complicated UWM's travel plans and also the tip time.
The Panthers dropped a tough 67-64 game, then were well into preparations for the second of the teams' two-game series Sunday morning when the next shoe dropped.
"We were in a film session around 11:30-12, and I get a call from representatives at Robert Morris that there was a positive test and that they only had six players to play," Baldwin recounted. "From that standpoint, they felt like they couldn’t play. We went through our contacts at the school and touched base with the Horizon League and later on is when they announced that we wouldn’t be playing the game."
The fact Robert Morris did have enough healthy players to field a team ended up not mattering.
"Technically and according to the rules they did," said Baldwin. "But I believe it’s on the team that has the positive test, their team doctors and trainers, after they go through their contact tracing they determine whether or not they can play in the game.
"I’m not sure how much the Horizon League had to say in this, but I think ultimately they were involved."
After examining the options for returning home, Baldwin and his staff ultimately decided to fly back Sunday.
Once back on campus, it was time for COVID-19 testing — a task that takes on even more importance this week assuming at least some members of the program might have come into contact with someone who tested positive from Robert Morris.
"That certainly is something that we were worried about and are worried about," said Baldwin, whose team will also test Tuesday and Thursday in accordance with Horizon League guidelines.
"We did our contact tracing throughout the game with guys that were exposed and there was little exposure from that standpoint, then we had testing once we arrived back on campus just to determine if there were any positives.
"Luckily, knock on wood, there weren’t, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed."
UWM, which is 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the Horizon League, has now had as many games canceled as it has played.
Its first two games had to be scuttled after the Panthers were put on a two-week pause for COVID-19 concerns within their own program, then they also had a pair of conference games against Illinois-Chicago canceled when the Flames experienced their own outbreak.
The Panthers are next scheduled to host Detroit Mercy on Friday and Saturday morning at the Klotsche Center. If those games come off as planned, they would be their first two home games of the season.
Adding to their frustration has been the fact the Panthers are much improved, going 11 players deep with the expectation of adding UTEP transfer guard Jordan Lathon shortly. UWM's two losses have been by a combined four points.
"When you get older, you tend to handle and adjust to things easier. But for our guys, it’s very exhausting from a mental standpoint," Baldwin said. "Our guys just want to play. It’s the preparation, it’s the anxiety of how the game is going to play out, and then to have it taken away – out of all our control – it’s really frustrating for them.
"Now, more than coaches, we’re acting as psychologists if you want to speak in those terms because there’s so many questions they have in their heads."