With two of his teammates out as freshman center Mady Sissoko and sophomore guard Steven Izzo tested positive for COVID-19, junior forward Thomas Kithier wasn’t panicking.
“You’ve kind of got to expect things like this to happen,” Kithier said to the media Wednesday afternoon.
After all, it's something this team has dealt with before, such as in early November, when Head Coach Tom Izzo tested positive himself.
"You got to count your blessings because you never know when something like that can happen to you,” Kithier continued.
Sissoko and Steven Izzo are roommates, with Steven Izzo also being the son of coach Tom Izzo. According to Tom Izzo the pair's 17 day absence from gameplay, a protocol set by the Big Ten, began four days ago.
The original protocol for Big Ten athletes who received a positive COVID-19 test was a 21-day absence from gameplay, but the conference reduced that number to 17 in late December.
Tom Izzo said that on day 14, the athletes will undergo heart screening and if cleared would spend the following three days getting back into shape for game time.
Tom Izzo described the 17-day loss as a “serious blow” to his team, especially given that Sissoko was beginning to play an increasingly important role in the Spartans' rotation.
"It saddens me of course because Mady was a guy that was starting to play more minutes and we knew with Iowa and Illinois coming up (that) size would help," Tom Izzo said.
Redshirt junior forward Joey Hauser echoed his coach, saying that with Sissoko and Izzo out, other players will have to step up to fill in their spots for the time being.
“Obviously Mady was getting some minutes for us so now other guys are going to have to fill in those minutes,” Hauser said. “Steven does a great job bringing energy on the bench and every day in practice so someone has got to step into that role as well.”
The Spartans were set to travel to Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday night ahead of their Thursday matchup against the No. 5 Hawkeyes, until an additional positive test within the Spartan program was identified Wednesday afternoon. Before the postponement was determined, Tom Izzo expected the match to continue as planned.
“Now that we got our testing done this morning (we will) contact Iowa and explain the situation,” Tom Izzo said early Wednesday afternoon. "I imagine there is a chance of that (Iowa wanting to call the game off), and I would completely understand. I don’t think any of us really know what’s going on. I think we’re just trying to trust the process and the protocol the best we can, but if that happened I would totally understand.”
That chance became a reality around 8 p.m. that night. The Spartans' game at Iowa was postponed after another positive test was identified within the Spartan program. The name of this additional individual has not been released.
"I'm really disappointed, but it just goes to prove that this can affect anyone," Tom Izzo said in the release. "I feel so comfortable that me, my son and my players did everything possible and followed every protocol as best we could. I'm really, really impressed with the way they have conducted themselves. This virus does not discriminate and I can't emphasize enough how important it is to wear a mask, wash your hands and follow protocols."
With an additional individual out, and with their 17-day clock just starting, the team will have to adjust both on the court and in practice, a task that Kithier mentioned has been challenging.
“We’ve got less bodies in practice so there’s not as much time to rest and be out on the sidelines but other than that we just got to continue pushing forward,” Kithier said. “This has been such an unpredictable year, programs are shut down left and right, so you got to kind of expect it in a way."
Kithier said members of the team have been texting both Sissoko and Steven Izzo to check in on the pair. And as for their coach, and father in Steven's case, Tom Izzo is giving them some first-hand advice after overcoming the virus himself.
“At least I can tell my son what I went through and Mady," Tom Izzo said.
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