PITTSBURGH — Given that a pandemic is present, the Duquesne women’s basketball team, much like every team currently playing, has had a decision to make as far as what is most important to them.
Duquesne has had to make sacrifices to be safe and hit the court. Already the team has made the tough decision not to see its family and friends and will not be traveling back home for the holiday season.
Duquesne basketball on Pittsburgh Sports Now is sponsored by The Summit Academy: setting young men on the path to a better future.
The focus is on basketball and following protocols in order to hit the court. If a member of the Duquesne program does happen to test positive, it could miss two weeks of action, which in Atlantic-10 play, would mean four games.
“Basketball remains our outlet to just get in there for a few hours, work on our game and not think about the pressures of school,” graduate student Kiersten Elliott said. “We’re still lucky with the shutdown happening and the opportunity to still play out the season, step up and play those games.”
Thus far, Duquesne has yet to have a member of its program test positive for COVID-19, which is easier said than done as countless basketball teams, both male and female, have had to pause their respective seasons, some before any games tipped off, including the Dukes’ male counterparts.
Though Duquesne coach Dan Burt admitted it may sound “touchy, feely”, his players have very little outlets besides basketball and academics so instead of going full bore into practice over the last week, the focus was on keeping things light and fresh.
“You want basketball to be enjoyable and be a level of happiness when they arrive to practice,” he said. “We want our kids to be happy and really focus on us. (Friday) was the last day of final exams. We are now past finals and have come away with wins we are excited about. This next week we can focus on basketball.”
Burt has always prided himself on being well-informed on a wide-ranging amount of topics ranging from music to the NBA and pretty much everything between, but he also prides himself on research, which has become a necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Admittedly, Burt can only control those in his bubble, and with most of the members in his circle in their mid-20’s, it’s an open question as to whether anyone can control them either. It is managing this chaos that has made playing basketball in the middle of a pandemic “interesting.”
This chaos leads to daily change, whether it is in testing procedures, guidelines or protocols, which provide unique challenges. Burt has credited his team for being healthy, smart and displaying discipline in a time where it can be hard to do so.
“(Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo talked about this being like prison and he didn’t know if he could do it 40 years ago. I will echo that statement,” Burt said. “It’s not prison because you have the option to leave, you’re getting better food but at the end of the day, when you have high-achieving individuals, it is very difficult for them. They want to do things and for us, it is everything from book clubs, to more basketball, to art projects we’re thinking of everything and anything that keeps our kids busy and smart with all of their decision making and they’ve been fantastic already.”
With finals now over and the spring semester not beginning until Jan. 20, it will be all the more difficult to fill that time and provide that positivity and happiness, but it is a task the team as a whole is prepared to tackle.
It is no secret that opinions concerning basketball being played are fairly divided. Some are wondering why a season is occurring in the first place, while others have attempted to adjust to the circumstances with mixed results.
Earlier in the week, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski revealed that his team elected not to complete its non-conference schedule due to another surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, while allowing players to travel home early for Christmas. Duke was 2-2 in its first four games.
At this moment, Pennsylvania is allowing for college sports to resume as part of its new protocols, so provided there is a plan in place, Duquesne plans to try and continue.
“It’s going to be challenging for our kids with the protocols in place,” said Burt. “I can understand Coach Krzyzewski’s thoughts, we’re going to do what we’re told to do and we’re going to do it 100% and do it the right way. That’s what we’ve done.”
Burt also acknowledged that he is finding difficulties navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic because even though his family has been healthy, he has become concerned for the society as a whole. Burt is a firm believer in wearing masks and social distancing, while also expressing both hope and belief that the vaccine will work.
“We need to think about our brothers and sisters,” Burt said. “They talk about the survival rate being 99%, that’s true for people that are young and physically fit. My father is in good shape and he is 73, we have to think about them. If this was a disease that affected younger people, older people would make sacrifices left and right for young people in terms of wearing masks and social distancing and following the protocols. As young people we need to do the same because the shoe is on the other foot and I hope people will do that.”
As Burt ended his press conference Friday afternoon he reiterated to follow protocols and to help each other out.
“Thank you everyone for supporting women’s basketball and please wear a mask.”