AUSTIN, Texas — Texas coach Shaka Smart said he had “significant” symptoms while in extended isolation from his team and family after testing positive for COVID-19 as he and the No. 6 Longhorns prepare for a showdown with No. 2 Baylor.
“This was not a walk in the park for me, not saying it has been for anyone else,” Smart said ahead of Tuesday night’s matchup of the top two teams in the Big 12. “When you go through that kind of stuff, it certainly swirls some things around your mind.”
Smart returned to the team Sunday and will be on the bench against Baylor. He didn’t detail the extent of the symptoms he experienced, but appeared frustrated that Texas played last week’s home loss to No. 9 Oklahoma when the Longhorns were missing their head coach, two starters and a key reserve because of COVID-19 protocols.
Smart said his team had several positive tests a week earlier and noted other programs have shut down for several days for less. Smart said that just before he tested positive, he ran a workout with only two players.
“If you talk to the majority of our guys, they want to play, That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been moments where some of them, they’ve been like, `Wow, this is really really strange,’ and thinking through what should we be doing?” Smart said.
“Everyone has their own rules about how these sorts of things are handled,” Smart said. “I did not say we didn’t want to play. I wasn’t there. I think you can tell that was a very, very difficult day for me.”
After losing to Oklahoma, Texas’ next game at Kentucky was canceled because of a positive COVID-19 test within the Wildcats program.
Even with its coach and so many players sitting out, Texas never put its program on pause. Texas had eight scholarship players available for the Oklahoma game, which exceeded the Big 12’s minimum of six.
“We knew it was going to be difficult to meander through,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “But we met the threshold and we continue to play.”
The matchup with Baylor will be the first of the season between the Bears (16-0, 8-0) and Longhorns (11-3, 5-2), after their first scheduled game in December was postponed because of COVID-19 issues at Baylor. The game has not yet been rescheduled.
Baylor coach Scott Drew tested positive just before Thanksgiving.
Texas has not allowed fans at the Erwin Center for about a month, but will allow a limited number Tuesday night as infection and hospitalization rates in the Austin area have improved.
Smart said the Longhorns should be at full strength. Baylor guard Davion Mitchell predicted Texas will have to adjust after having so many players, and Smart, forced to sit out.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit difficult for them, just because of some of the people coming back from COVID,” Mitchell said. “They’ve got to get that team chemistry back. But, it’s going to be a good game.”