Assistant Sports Editor Jared McMasters caught up with North Carolina women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart to discuss the team’s return to campus, COVID-19 precautions, what to expect next year and more. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: First, I just wanted to get an accurate timeline, because looking at the Roadmap for Return schedule, it says June 12 was the tentative date for coaches and staff to return, and players returned this week. Can you just walk me through the last month or so and tell me what the timeline has been like?
Courtney Banghart: Yeah, staff came back, like you said... then we waited the weekend until the results came back and then we were in the office for a couple weeks... the kids came back on Monday the 5th and they (got) tested (that day)... then they moved in. We’ve kind of moved them in and gotten them in groups. We’ve had individual move-ins where they had two-hour blocks to kind of maintain that distance. They all have their own rooms so they’re distanced there. We’re not working out with them until their results come in and then we’ll be in small groups throughout.
DTH: You mention being in separate rooms and everything, so looking ahead to when workouts do begin, what sort of restrictions or precautions do you guys have planned?
CB: Oh God, only a lot. They’re only gonna work in small groups on the court, so three or four players. They’ll lift in small groups. We’ll have less than 10, including staff, on the court at one time. It’s basically a great chance for them to work in small groups on their skill sets.”
DTH: Have any health officials from the athletics department or anybody like that given you any sort of advice or guidelines to follow?
CB: Oh God, yeah. We had a parent Zoom where we had the team doctor and head of facilities Rick Steinbacher and all these people on a call meeting with the parents to kind of address our protocols and our processes and all that.
DTH: Obviously the University announced this week that there were 37 positive tests (in the athletic department), so have you seen any change in the opinions of parents from prior to that announcement to now?
CB: I think whenever there’s new information — that’s the key to this ordeal, right? — it provides a chance to regroup. We’re sort of regrouping and communicating through all of it, so we’re using actual information and not opinions. We’re continuing to take care of the personal responsibilities that we feel we have to maintain, whether it’s masking and social distancing and small groups. We feel like that’s what we need to do, and we’re doing it, regardless if there was one case or a million cases. It doesn’t change how important it is that we take care of what we can control.
DTH: What about for you personally, are there any changes to how this season goes that you would be supportive of after this new information — for example, no fans in the stands or a conference-only schedule or anything like that?
CB: I just want to make sure that the people making the decisions are the ones that have the science. I think it’s so easy to sit in my chair as the women’s basketball coach and have opinions. I think that in combination with those who are the experts with that information, I trust that leadership makes the best decisions. If the experts in the science field feel like the best decision is to delay the start or not, I’m all in. I’m a neuroscientist by academic major in college, and I just believe science. I’m going to trust the scientists to help us make the right decisions that make sense.
DTH: I know you’ve mentioned basing decisions off the facts, but have your players expressed any concerns lately about being in a team environment or in a classroom later or anything?
CB: I mean, everything’s optional. They don’t have to be here, and I told them that you’re not gonna lose your scholarship if you choose to stay home and get more information and that would be the case. Some are already taking an online class and it’s virtual, but I think that’s what we all need to do. We kind of need to continue to recheck in and reengage when more information becomes available. With the information that we have, the team feels comfortable being here. If that changes, we’ll change with it. But by the time you post this, new information will become available, so it might make this conversation obsolete is what I’m saying, I guess. The key is going to be to continue to get information and be flexible.
DTH: Looking at the first-years on the team, specifically, the jump from high school to college is a complicated process for any athlete, let alone in a pandemic, so how are they handling this week’s process?
CB: The freshmen are great. The neat thing about college basketball is that they’re freshmen until they’re here. Now, they’re just part of the team. No one, me or a freshman, has any experience dealing with a pandemic. It’s almost like everyone’s a freshman right now. No one has any experience wearing a mask in and out of the gym. No one has any experience where I’m not letting them play five-on-five pickup games right now. We’re all just meeting the moment with compassion and information. That’s sort of, honestly — I hate to be so vague — but that’s what we’re doing. I don’t think the freshmen are different in that case. There are juniors and seniors on our team who have never lived through a pandemic and there are freshmen on our team who have never lived through a pandemic. We’re just all the same in that way.
DTH: Right, and I know you’ve said you’re relying on the science, but in your personal opinion, do you think the season will happen?
CB: With the information we have right now, I think it will. Again, I don’t know when it will start, how long it’ll go because I think new information continues to pop up. I think my job through this pandemic is to, every day, do the best for that day. As of right now, we have a season, so I’m going to lead my team today as if we have a season. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up with more information and know if that’s changed. No? OK. Then tomorrow is the same thing. I’m just not planning out. I’m living in the moment and making sure that I’m leading day-to-day.
DTH: I know UNC’s media relations has said they won’t release any specifics about testing information, but I just wanted to give you the opportunity right now to make any comment you might have about if anyone from the women’s basketball program has tested positive or seen symptoms or anything.
CB: I think the key here is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), so I don’t think medical information, whether it’s an ankle or COVID, it’s not my information to share. I am negative, and that’s the only information I can share about anyone else’s medical history.
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