Normalcy still foreign concept as USF men’s, women’s basketball workouts begin

A number of women’s players remain back in their native homelands in Europe
USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez addresses reporters outside the team's practice facility Monday. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]
USF women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez addresses reporters outside the team's practice facility Monday. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times] [ JOEY KNIGHT | Times ]
Published June 15, 2020|Updated June 15, 2020

TAMPA ― On the day a shred of normalcy returned to USF’s basketball headquarters, the prospect of a wholly abnormal summer still loomed.

Especially for the Bulls women, most of whom remain on another continent as the team was permitted to begin voluntary ― but heavily restricted ― workouts inside the Muma Center.

“We have a different situation of course, because three-quarters of our team is foreign,” said veteran coach Jose Fernandez, who currently has only a half-dozen of his players in Tampa. “Right now, travel restrictions are still pretty much in place from the president.”

Those in town, and their men’s counterparts on campus, began their voluntary workouts Monday. Fernandez said none of his players who are here tested positive for COVID-19; his staff is set to be tested Tuesday morning.

Men’s coach Brian Gregory said four of his players and his staff have been tested so far, with no positive results.

“A lot of guys have stayed here in Tampa throughout the duration of this, and I’m obviously really proud of the work they did in the classroom to end the school year off as well,” said Gregory, whose program posted a collective 3.45 GPA this past spring, a program record for a semester.

"Our guys do a good job of figuring out ways to stay in shape. It’s gonna be a little different, but I think not only me as the head coach, but my staff and our guys are excited to get back to work inasmuch as we can do right now.”

Related: USF football clear of coronavirus so far, Jeff Scott says

Wearing facemasks, the players began their day with temperature checks and a series of questions upon entry into the Muma Center, where only the men’s and women’s practice courts and strength-and-conditioning area were open.

Working in groups of no more than four, the women’s players were limited to workouts lasting no longer than an hour. While one group lifted weights, another hoisted shots in the gym, each player being assigned a specific ball and basket.

The men, at least those who have been cleared so far, were set to follow the women later Monday. At this point, coaches are not allowed to observe the workouts.

“Our goal is, by the start of Summer B (class session) ― which is that last week of June, first week of July ― that we’ll have the entire team here, entire team tested, the entire team able to start doing their voluntary workouts,” Gregory said.

Things could be quite trickier for the women.

Ten of Fernandez’s players hail from the Europe Schengen area, which remains under a travel restriction (with various exceptions) into the U.S. due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Additionally, Fernandez has been forced to cancel his normal June recruiting excursion to Europe, where he typically observes FIBA age-group world championship play.

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“The under-17 world championships have been shut down and that was supposed to happen in August, so that’s huge,” said Fernandez, whose sport (along with the men) is observing a recruiting dead period at least until July 31.

“I think right now we’re in conversations both on the men’s and women’s side (about), are we gonna get some other recruiting opportunities in August and September? … Because from an evaluation standpoint, a lot of these kids aren’t being evaluated on either side.”

In other Bulls hoops news, Gregory said redshirt junior power forward Alexis Yetna has been able to continue rehab ― under strict protocol ― for his torn ACL, and continues progressing nicely. Yetna, who missed the entire 2019-20 season, currently is able to do some light shooting and running.

“It’s just a matter now of getting his body and the complete strength back in that leg,” Gregory said. “But he looks like a million bucks. He’s put on good solid weight in his upper body.”