This year has been different in so many ways at the University of Northern Iowa. Whether it is classes moving online, sports being postponed or masks being mandated, adjusting to COVID-19 has been a drastic change for some. That includes the UNI men’s basketball team.
Practices have been much different than year’s past. All players, coaches and managers must wear masks during the entirety of practice because if one player tests positive for COVID-19, then the entire team does not have to quarantine if masks were being worn. “Players have to wipe off all of the basketballs on the rack and sanitize the basketballs after each practice,” said student manager Nick Hoppel. “Another change is that each player has to sit in assigned seats during film-watching sessions, and each player now also has assigned towels and water bottles.”
Player routines have been fairly similar to past years, but there have been some noticeable changes. In the locker room, players do not have to wear masks because they all are together and have been tested. As soon as they leave the locker room, however, they are required to be tested. If a player wants routine treatments, such as ice for recovery or getting taped for practices, they must wear masks in the athletic training room.
Coronavirus testing is another noticeable change, as the UNI basketball teams undergo numerous COVID-19 tests throughout the week. The entire basketball team is required to be tested for COVID-19 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday through TestIowa. The coaches and managers also have to get tested once per week on Wednesdays. There have not been any outbreaks on the basketball team this fall regarding the coronavirus.
The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball season is scheduled to begin on Nov. 25. The first games will be a multi-team tournament taking place in Lincoln, Neb. with the Panthers invited to the event. Other teams invited to the tournament are Nebraska, LSU, Nevada, Illinois State, Cleveland State, Oklahoma State, San Francisco, Colorado State, Western Kentucky, South Florida and St. Louis.
“The team is really excited to play a game and really eager to finally be able to play a different team. They understand the precautions but are really excited to play in a month,” Hoppel said.
UNI is projected to finish first in the Missouri Valley Conference as voted by coaches and media polls. The Panthers received 30 first place votes, with Loyola second and Bradley in third. The same poll also projected UNI junior AJ Green to be the player of the year for the second year in a row in the Missouri Valley Conference. Both Green and teammate Austin Phyfe were named preseason all MVC, and Trae Berhow was named preseason third team all MVC.