What do you do if you’re bored and sitting in a hotel room far from home?
Some would order room service and watch a pay-per-view movie.
If you’re a major college basketball coach, though, you schedule a game against the No. 1 team in the country.
At least, that’s what West Virginia’s Bob Huggins did last week while awaiting the start of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls.
“You every been in South Dakota in a bubble?” Huggins asked during a Zoom conference with the media. “You get bored.
“We were sitting in the room watching basketball, and it came across the ticker that Tennessee had kind of an (COVID-19) outbreak, and they cancelled the game,” Huggins said, referring of the Volunteers’ slated meeting with Gonzaga on Wednesday, Dec. 2 in Indianapolis as part of the Jimmy V Classic.
“So I thought, ‘What the heck? Let’s call ESPN.’ I called some guys there that I’ve known for a long, long time and said, ‘Hey man, can you work this out and get us in the Jimmy V and play Gonzaga?’ He said, ‘Let me call you back in 10-15 minutes.’ He called me back and said, ‘We got it done. You’re in.’ It happened pretty quick.”
Quick and easy.
Previously it took a decade to schedule a college football game and at least a year to put together a college basketball contest. Now in the coronavirus world, such agreements are worked out in 15 minutes for a game that is barely a week away.
West Virginia originally had been slated to host Youngstown State on Dec. 2, but that game was put on hold when the Penguins had a COVID outbreak. Thus WVU had an opening and was able to fill it with Gonzaga, which is No. 1 in this week’s A.P poll having defeated No. 6 Kansas (102-90) and Auburn (90-67) in its first two games of the season.
West Virginia officials initially said that its postponed game with Youngstown State would be made up later in December, but that apparently is not going to be the case now.
“Youngstown hasn’t been able to play. They’ve been pretty much shut down, so (trying to play them later this month) is a mute point,” noted Huggins. “If there is anybody in the country that I can work with, Jerrod (Calhoun, current YSU head coach and former WVU assistant) would probably be the guy.”
With so many COVID issues, there’s not a guarantee any game will be played until tipoff actually arrives. Gonzaga had one player and one staff member test positive last week while in Florida, where it was playing Kansas and Auburn. The one GU player, and another who was contact traced to him, were held out of Friday’s win over the Tigers.
There is no current indication that the Mountaineers and Zags won’t meet up in Indianapolis, but games this season can not only be scheduled but also cancelled in short order.
“All I know is they haven’t said they won’t,” said Huggins when asked if GU was going to be able to play Wednesday. “Here’s what I think everyone is missing – it’s not up to us, it’s up to the health board. From what I understand, when Gonzaga had an outbreak, the first thing (Zag head coach Mark Few) did was go to the local health board, and he did what they said they needed to do.
“It’s not coaches making decisions, and it’s not athletic directors making decisions. It’s your local health board.”
As for the Mountaineer players, they are excited to get a chance to face the No. 1 team in the country.
Huggins told his squad during halftime of last Wednesday’s game against South Dakota State about the matchup with the Zags.
Of course, in today’s wire-in world, there are few true secrets, and by the time of Huggins’ halftime announcement, most of his players had already heard the news.
“I saw the Tweets that we were going to play Gonzaga first thing in the morning when I woke up,” recalled WVU senior forward Gabe Osabuohien of how he found out last Wednesday. “As soon as I got to breakfast, I asked the coaches if we were going to play Gonzaga. They still weren’t 100%, so they didn’t really say anything.”
That didn’t stop him from spreading the news, though.
“When we were eating breakfast, Gabe told me, and then we told the whole team. I don’t know if Huggs knew we knew, but then he told us (at halftime against the Jackrabbits).”
Initially, Osabuohien had the timing of WVU’s game against Gonzaga incorrect.
“I actually thought we were going to play them in South Dakota. I was like, ‘We’re playing Gonzaga today?!’ It was later on, though.”
Eight months ago, the thought that one team would substitute in for another that very same day would have been absurd, but in today’s world, such a possibility isn’t so far fetched.
In the end, though, the West Virginia-Gonzaga game was a week away, not mere hours.
Still, the opportunity for the No. 11 Mountaineers (3-0) to face the No. 1-ranked team in the country is enticing.
“Of course I’m excited,” Osabuohien said of the WVU-GU clash, which tips off – hopefully – Wednesday at 7 p.m., from Bankers First Fieldhouse. The contest will be televised by ESPN. “That’s the No. 1 team in the country, and you look forward to those opportunities.”
“The reason you come to a high major D-I program like West Virginia is to play the best teams in the country and to be on the national stage,” continued Sherman. “We’re all excited to have this opportunity. It will be a big game for us.”