A member of the Georgia Tech men’s basketball travel party tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, coach Josh Pastner said Tuesday as the team was preparing to play in the NCAA Tournament. The person, whose role with the team Pastner would not reveal, was said to be asymptomatic.
Pastner said it will not affect the team’s eligibility to play in the tournament, although the individual will not be able to participate in Friday’s first-round game against Loyola Chicago or, should the Yellow Jackets win, in the second-round game Sunday against the winner of the Illinois-Drexel matchup.
Pastner said that the team learned of the positive test Monday night after intake testing earlier in the day in Indianapolis, where the entire tournament will be played in several locations. The team had arrived Sunday night from Greensboro, N.C., where the Yellow Jackets won the ACC championship Saturday night over Florida State.
Pastner said abnormalities were found in their postgame testing Saturday after Tech’s win in the ACC title game. Reading from a statement, he said “medical officials investigated the abnormalities thoroughly, and our entire travel party was cleared to depart for Indianapolis” on Sunday.
Pastner added that, following the clearance, he still had two members of the travel party make the trip to Indianapolis separately from the rest of the group “just out of an abundance of caution, to be extra careful.”
Asked for more details about the abnormalities and the separate two-person travel group, Pastner referred back to his statement giving the overall narrative of the situation. It is unknown how the two-person travel group, with at least one showing an abnormality, arrived in Indianapolis for intake testing Monday.
Georgia Tech was scheduled to leave Greensboro at 11 a.m. Sunday, but did not depart as planned. The remainder of the group traveled much later in the day following that evening’s selection show where the Yellow Jackets found out their bracket, seed and opponent.
“It’s a range of emotions, obviously, because you’re sick for that individual because that individual hasn’t done anything wrong,” Pastner said. “It’s just, unfortunately, this is a serious, serious virus.”
On Sunday, just before the team left the Grandover Resort hotel where it had stayed during the tournament, Pastner was asked directly in a videoconference with media if everyone on the roster was healthy. Pastner responded, “We’re good to go. We’ll fly to Indianapolis when this (interview session) is done.”
Asked Tuesday if it was his belief at the time that everyone was indeed healthy, Pastner referred again to his narrative regarding the investigation into the testing abnormalities and the team being cleared to travel.
Pastner said the person with the positive test was isolated in Indianapolis. However, Pastner also said that the rest of the group “is good to move forward, and we’re full throttle and ready to play Friday.” No other members of the party were identified as close contacts through contact tracing, Pastner said. The team practiced Tuesday at the Indiana Convention Center in preparation for Loyola. It will continue to go through daily testing.
If the individual is asymptomatic after Sunday, Pastner said, he would be able to rejoin the group for the next round of games, should Tech advance that far.
“Nothing’s more important than your health, and thank the good Lord right now that the individual is asymptomatic, and we just want him to remain that way,” Pastner said. “But it’s a gut punch. It stinks.”
Indications would strongly point to the individual being a player. Among other clues, as Pastner spoke about the situation Tuesday, he spoke of the person not being able to participate in the games or practice. He also was about to begin referring to the person as “the young man,” a term he often uses when speaking of his players, before catching himself at “young m-” and then using the more generic “the person.”
Pastner confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that freshman guard Tristan Maxwell was not with the team in Greensboro during the ACC Tournament. When asked if that was related to the COVID case, Pastner replied that it was not.
Pastner shared his confidence that the one positive result would not spread through the rest of the group, trusting in the protocols set up by the team.
“I feel confident that because of our mitigating and everything that we’ve done, we’ll be OK moving forward,” he said.
It certainly changes the week for the Jackets, all of whom are experiencing the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Many have described it as a dream come true. It is Tech’s first trip to the tournament since 2010, and Jackets fans have thrilled to the team’s effort-filled style and strong finish, winning its past eight games and winning the ACC title for the first time since 1993. But, in that midst, the realities of the pandemic have intruded again.
“It was a tough situation,” senior guard Jose Alvarado said. “But we let Coach handle it, and we just keep our prayers for that individual and hopefully, he gets back as soon as possible. But we just gave faith to Coach and see what was going to go on. I’m just glad we get to get to play Friday and that individual is healthy.”
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.