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Kevin Keatts provides an update on the NC State basketball program

NC State Wolfpack men’s basketball head coach Kevin Keatts recorded his weekly radio show Monday after his program paused team activities last week.

The Pack announced that a member of its “traveling party” had tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, Dec. 5. NC State has since had four games either postponed or canceled, including matchups with UConn, Michigan and Louisville.

The Wolfpack’s next scheduled game is set for Saturday, Dec. 19 at 4 p.m. against Campbell in PNC Arena.

Here is a recap of what Keatts had to say, including where the program stands with its pause, what led to the postponement of the ACC opener against Louisville this week and if the Pack plans to reschedule any of its impacted games:

NC State Wolfpack basketball Kevin Keatts
Head coach Kevin Keatts provided several updates on the state of his program on his radio show Monday following a pause in the program. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

Keatts shared several key updates on his radio show Monday following a rather silent 10-day period since the program announced its first positive test on Dec. 5. Three days later, the program announced that an additional member of its “traveling party” had tested positive for the virus.

The first piece of significant news is that NC State resumed practice with a limited roster this weekend. According to Keatts, the Pack had six players present in a workout on Saturday and had eight available on Sunday.

“We just got back on Saturday, a couple of days ago,” Keatts said. “That particular day, I had six guys. It was more of a workout to get a lot of shots up. Then I got fortunate. After the six guys, yesterday we had eight. I thought I had made it, we had eight players.

“We did a lot of four-on-four. I was the king of four-on-four yesterday, a lot of four-on-four drills. I don't anticipate many more right now. We're still working on some things between the virus and possibly injuries.”

NC State will conduct its first practice in PNC Arena Tuesday according to Keatts. For now, the remainder of the Pack’s home games will be played in PNC Arena after its final scheduled game in Reynolds Coliseum, Florida Atlantic, was canceled due to the program’s pause.

The head coach also confirmed that the Wolfpack was prepared to play this Wednesday in its first scheduled ACC contest at Louisville, but the game was postponed this weekend due to the Cardinals program’s medical advisors' recommendation that its team was not in a safe position to play.

“When you look at the Louisville game, we were ready to play,” Keatts said. “I don't have a full roster right now, I have eight or nine guys that could possibly play in a game. We were prepared to play. They didn't feel by their medical people that it was the right time for those guys to be able to play on Wednesday. So they decided that we would postpone the game.

“That's no knock against Louisville. I'm not here to judge them. We all have medical people, and we all have trainers. You have to do the best thing for your program and then, unfortunately, we'll deal with it.

“Our guys wanted to play, so we were [prepared to]. But unfortunately, the game is not going to happen.”

For clarity, the game has officially been postponed as opposed to canceled. There has not yet been any information released as to when the game could be rescheduled.

NC State is actively seeking a replacement opponent for this week, and a potentially new non-conference matchup could be played as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. For now, the next scheduled opponent is Campbell on Saturday followed by what would be the conference schedule opener against North Carolina in PNC Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

“On our end, we're looking for a possible opponent for Wednesday or maybe even Thursday,” Keatts said. “Thursday will be a little tougher for us because we turn around again and play on Saturday against Campbell, so we're just trying to figure it out. When we got our game canceled against William & Mary, it took us about 32 hours to find a game. We may find one. We haven't played a game since we played UMass Lowell, so I'm still getting some guys back. We're going to play if we can on Wednesday.”

If a player tests positive, they will have some immunity to contact tracing protocol once it is deemed safe for them to return to the court. According to Keatts, those that have tested positive for the virus will now have a 90-day window where they would not have to sit out if they were deemed to be in close contact with an individual that represents a new positive. However, after that 90-day period, they are subject to the same contact tracing rules as a player that has not ever tested positive for the virus.

NC State has only gotten up to eight players for its team practices this weekend, but those that have been personally in contact tracing have had opportunities to get shots up safely as well.

“We're learning so much about the virus,” Keatts said. “Most of our guys, if you had the virus, we typically give you a 90-day period [to not be impacted by contact tracing]. Once that 90-day period is over, if somebody that came in close contact with you ends up catching the virus, you become part of contact tracing. So it doesn't give you that immunity after 90 days.

“In our situation, we've had some guys who were quarantined because of the positives that we had. After a few days, and we had a couple of tests to make sure they were okay, we would give those guys about an hour to come in the gym and shoot alone. No coaches, no one to rebound for them, they had to use the shooting gun and, obviously, had to wear their mask the entire time and then end up leaving.”

Presuming NC State finds an opponent this Wednesday or Thursday, the new game will mark two weeks since the Pack last took the court against UMass Lowell in Bubbleville on Dec. 3. The head coach discussed how the pause has been frustrating to the players and everyone involved, but everyone has been understanding of the unique situation this college basketball season has presented.

“I think the biggest thing that we all made a mistake with in men's basketball is that we released a schedule,” Keatts joked. “We should start releasing a schedule the week of or the day of. We don't take this lightly. I know we're joking a little bit about games being changed, but it's hard for me to even go there when the pandemic and the virus has affected so many people and so many people's lives.

“We're grateful to have played the three games that we played. We will play games moving forward. What has changed for us is that you can't prepare for any team. You have to be more focused on what you do and how well you do it. We're not the only ones in this situation, and we're not the only one that is going to go through it.

“When you look around the country, the virus has kind of taken over and it's at an all-time high in most states. So understanding that part of it, basketball for us certainly is important, sports is certainly important. But we want to make sure that the safety of our players and our staff is the most important thing.”

Keatts himself admitted that he voluntarily isolated after the first positive within the program was found. The head coach was still able to communicate with his players and staff through video conferencing apps and is no longer in isolation.

“Luckily, with the individual who had first contacted the virus, I didn't get caught up in contact tracing,” Keatts said. “Even though that was the case, I wanted to isolate for a few days just to make sure. I was able to still get out and do my walks, but it was different. I wanted to stay in contact with my team.

“We did a lot of Zoom calls, I wanted to make sure we were staying in contact with our staff, and I wanted to give information overload to my entire program so they would know what's going on. Then we talked about what's our next step, what do things look like, when will you play basketball again. You think so many times that it's all about you, but you figure out quickly that it's also about the team that you're going to play next.”

When NC State does return to the court, don’t expect the team to immediately pick up right back where it left off. Because of the pause and the limited roster, the head coach plans to make some adjustments in the immediate future to compensate for the impacts the situation has created.

“We'll be rusty,” Keatts said. “We haven't played since Dec. 3, and for me to think that we're going to just go back and be clicking the same way we were. I don't think that's going to happen. We're a team that relies on our conditioning. That will come into question because we haven't had a chance to get up and down as much. We're a team that likes to press the entire game. We may have to scale some of that back until we get our conditioning better, and get more players back.”

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