BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) "Just seeing all that news...I was just thinking, 'There's probably a good chance that our championship game is gonna get canceled as well.'"
UVM junior guard Stef Smith's suspicions about a premature ending to the college basketball season would prove to be correct. Not long after Rudy Gobert of the NBA's Utah Jazz became the first high profile athlete in the US to test positive for the coronavirus, pretty much the entire sports world shut down. That included the America East Championship game scheduled for two weeks ago at Patrick Gym .
"It's really serious and they had to do what they had to do to make sure they're protecting the players which I thought was the right call. But obviously it was pretty disheartening for myself and my teammates to not be able to play in that game," Smith said.
There wasn't an NCAA tournament trip attached...because there wasn't an NCAA Tournament at all. But America East bylaws state that if the conference tournament can't be completed, the highest remaining seed after the last completed round will be the conference champ. So the Cats at least got to celebrate with the tournament trophy .
"It was pretty bittersweet," Smith said. "A lot of emotions, a lot of people crying but I think we were still proud of the season that we had."
As the situation with COVID-19 deteriorated, the University of Vermont, along with pretty much every other college in the country, shut down their campus and moved to online learning. Smith made the decision to stick around in Burlington, but he now has an added hurdle as a Canadian citizen with the new border restrictions .
"I did have the option to go home a few days and you know I talked to my parents and I just figured out that I thought it was best for me to stay here right now. And I feel like I'm in a safe environment and I don't want to put them in any danger as well. I'm just taking it day by day, trying to take all the precautions that everyone's suggesting and just try to be safe right now."
So now Stef's attention is on getting himself ready for next year...but it's a little hard with Patrick Gym closed for everyone .
"Yeah I think it's stricltly off limits so as far as like shooting and being in the gym, it's been difficult. I was thinking about trying to hit up an outdoor court early in the morning. It's kind of at this point whatever it takes to stay in some type of basketball shape."
And needless to say, the unexpected ending to this year is going to serve as a huge driving factor heading into his senior year .
"After winning that first championship the year before, I was just motivated to get another one this year. And obviously with an abrupt ending to the season, it's kinda just like alright, I want to make sure I get this last ring the way I wanted Ev and Ant and Daniel to get theirs. So definitely once all this stuff calms down, and hopefully it's sooner rather than later, we'll be back to work and it's all about just using everything as motivation from my standpoint."
And hopefully we'll be seeing Stef and the rest of the Cats back on the court in November.