Casey, Pistons ‘champing at the bit to get back,’ respect NBA’s stance on crisis

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DETROIT — As the NBA season remains on hiatus, Pistons coach Dwane Casey is trying to keep things as close to normal while everything around him is anything but normal.

The remaining league games were suspended March 11, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19. In the aftermath, the Pistons’ traveling party of more than 50 people was relegated to self-isolation for two weeks.

For Casey, that meant spending time away from his family, hunkering down in his basement while his wife and two children had the rest of the house. Limited to the lower level, Casey continued to watch game film from earlier in the season and planned for a potential return after the coronavirus situation improved.

Casey appreciated the league’s foresight in suspending the season, which became a template for other leagues and sports. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview this month that the league had been getting updates on the spread of COVID-19 in China, which helped them prepare for when the virus reached the United States.

“The NBA was ahead of the curve and they set the tone for NCAA and spring sports and all other sports and baseball,” Casey said Thursday via conference call. “Once they saw that Adam made that decision to suspend play, it gave them the confidence to say it was big.

“It was totally the right thing to do in that we all have families and loved ones and there’s nothing we want to do to put them at risk. We see it was the right decision.”

During the isolation period, Casey kept in contact with players via text, and when the news broke of Christian Wood’s positive test, Casey wanted to be sure that the young forward was OK. Wood tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday, completing his recovery from the virus, a league source told The Detroit News.

“He’s fine; he’s feeling good,” Casey said. “I’ve spoken to Christian numerous times through this. … He was in good spirits and we talked about basketball and how he’s doing and made sure he was getting food and adhering to the ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ guidelines that Governor Whitmer put in place.”

Casey said he stayed in contact with the players via text throughout the isolation time to check on their health and to make sure they were eating well. The Pistons also had their training staff provide scaled-down workouts that the players could do at home.

Additionally, team owner Tom Gores and vice chairman Arn Tellem enlisted team partner Plum Market, which has a location in the team’s midtown practice facility, to deliver food to the players to ensure that they were eating properly.

The Pistons’ team life coach, Dr. Corey Yeager, also checked in with players to ensure that they were mentally and emotionally centered.

“We tried to surround and help guys as much as we could during these times,” Casey said. “These are different times, and nobody has seen these situations before. In addition to Dr. Yeager, we gave them medical advice and any information we felt like they needed.”

Because the NBA ordered all practice facilities to close during the COVID-19 spread, players can’t work out there and most players don’t have home gyms or the ability to shoot or do normal basketball drills. The team also provided workout equipment to help players stay in shape.

If the season resumes, that will make it more difficult to return to a state of normalcy quickly, as players will have been out of the normal rhythm for at least a month by that point.

“The longer the time we’re out, the more time we’ll need to get guys back in basketball shape. They haven’t played one-on-one or a game,” Casey said. “The league is looking at all scenarios and we’re going to trust them in that. Health is first. Players are young and champing at the bit to get back.

“What we’re going through as a country is way more important than basketball. We have to keep that first and that the league goes with what the health leaders say on when we come back.

“We’ll go with what Adam says and they’re looking at every scenario on whether we come back or not. It’ll be a challenge, whatever it is. Guys aren’t robots and it’s going to take them a while to get back in a mental frame and conditioning wise.”


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