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On Saturday, Jan. 22, the University of Michigan announced a 2-week stoppage for all of its athletic programs after five student-athletes were confirmed to have tested positive for the variant B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19. Though the Michigan men’s basketball team doesn’t have any active COVID cases — and hasn’t during the season — it has still felt the virus’s impact. 

 

On Thursday, Jan. 21, one day before the Wolverines’ most recent game, Michigan coach Juwan Howard received a call from Purdue coach Matt Painter. The news Painter shared with Howard was an update that has become all too familiar around the sports world in the past calendar year: the Boilermakers had a positive test for COVID-19.

Howard thanked Painter for alerting him, but the fact still remained that a Purdue player had been exposed to COVID-19. He requested that the rest of the Boilermakers roster take PCR tests to ensure that the outstanding case of Purdue junior guard/forward Stefan Stefanovic was the only one on the team. 

“I spoke to each and every player as well as staff members,” Howard said. “Making sure that everyone felt comfortable, not just me. They all have a voice when it comes to a serious situation like this. They all felt comfortable with coming here and playing.”

Before he and his team boarded a bus to West Lafayette, Howard wanted to make sure that his players felt safe making the trip. At the end of the day, they would be the ones playing, and if they did not feel okay taking the floor at Mackey Arena, the Wolverines wouldn’t go.

“I think we do have that gentleman’s agreement in our league to where if somebody makes that kind of decision, even though it might not be as consistent as somebody else’s decision, it’s still theirs,” Painter said.

The team was not on board right away, though. Howard sat his team down on Zoom and laid out all the specifics on the Boilermakers’ end, including that there was a positive case and that the rest of Purdue’s roster had taken PCR tests and tested negative. Senior forward Isaiah Livers admitted that he at first felt uneasy about playing, but added that after learning about the Boilermakers’ negative tests and believing them to be completely transparent, he decided to trust them.

“I was opposed to it,” Livers said. “But once I found out they were all gonna get PCRs after and it was only one guy, he’s been quarantined and he had been away, it was like ‘OK, we can work with this.’ They really found 100%, and they were transparent, and they just wanted to play basketball, just like I did. At the end of the day, we just had to trust them.”

Added senior guard Eli Brooks: “That’s all you can ask because we’re playing in a time that is uncertain, that people are telling the truth. That’s the best way to do it. That goes a long way.”

The team as a whole eventually agreed to play and boarded the bus on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Purdue’s athletic department released an official statement revealing that Stefanovic had tested positive for COVID-19. Some worried that Stefanovic likely could have exposed himself to his teammates and worried that the Wolverines were potentially risking a team outbreak themselves. Michigan, though, had all the information it needed, and they were ready to take the court. 

“You go in prepared like you’re going to play a game no matter what,” Brooks said. “That was the mindset we took. We’re gonna get here, do everything we’d do on a regular game and if we played we’d be ready, and if we didn’t we’d still be ready. That’s the mindset we took.”

As the Wolverines dribbled out the clock after a 70-53 win, they moved to 13-1 on the season. As it stands now, they will not see the court again until at least Feb. 11, after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ directive. 

After having their last game nearly put in jeopardy due to COVID-19, the Wolverines will now sit on the sidelines for two weeks, atop the Big Ten but absent from the fight. While Michigan will hopefully return to the floor soon, the threat of the virus will still be omnipresent. After navigating a tough situation last week, it appears that the Wolverines will be more than up to the task to continue to adapt as the season goes on.

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