Duke women's basketball ends season

By Steve Wiseman
The News & Observer/TNS

RALEIGH, N.C. - When a teammate became infected with coronavirus, Duke women’s basketball players wanted their opponents to be tested for COVID-19 daily just as they are under the school’s stringent protocols during the pandemic.

When those wishes weren’t granted by the ACC or NCAA, the team decided last week to opt out for the remainder of the season, citing health and safety concerns.

Duke athletic department officials are declining to speak publicly about the decision, simply referring to the statement from a university spokesman last Friday saying the school supports the players’ decision.

But Jade Williams, a 6-foot-5 senior center for the Blue Devils, posted several statements on her personal Twitter account providing some insight into the move to end the season after just four games played.

“There are more than enough resources to make sure all competing teams are getting tested EVERYDAY,” Williams wrote, capitalizing ‘everyday’ for emphasis. “If you want entertainment, then make the playing fields, courts, etc safe!”

The last game Duke played was Dec. 9, a 73-49 loss at home to Louisville. Two days later, the Cardinals announced they were pausing team activities due to positive COVID-19 tests among their Tier 1 personnel - meaning players, coaches and support staff.

The following day, the ACC postponed Duke’s game with Miami as the Blue Devils went through contact tracing procedures due to having played a game with Louisville. Duke’s players then began requesting daily COVID-19 testing across the ACC, given they could have been exposed to the virus during the game with Louisville.

Four days later, Duke paused team activities - causing three games to be postponed - when two positive cases among its staff were discovered. A player also later tested positive.

The guidelines from the ACC’s Medical Advisory Group, which is headed by Duke infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe, calls for basketball teams to be tested three days per week, including no more than 72 hours prior to their game as well as 48 hours afterward.

The report, last updated Dec. 1, does include guidance for daily testing but doesn’t mandate it.

“In the sports of basketball, wrestling and volleyball,” the report states, “an institution may choose to test its respective team members with rapid antigen tests seven (7) days per week, as opposed to administering three (3) tests.”

Kelly Williams, Jade’s mother, also posted on Twitter asking for the NCAA to institute mandatory daily testing. Two of her children are currently Division I basketball players. Jade Williams’ younger brother, Tre Williams, plays for Minnesota.

“It needs to be said,” Kelly Williams wrote Dec. 20, “the NCAA CAN afford to subsidize daily testing for our NCAA athletes. Several leagues are already doing this (and) I applaud them but let’s do everything we can for our athletes (and) make sure they ALL get tested DAILY before taking the court (and) infecting another player.”

Kelly Williams did not respond to a message from The News & Observer asking her for further comments.

Saturday, the day after Duke’s decision to opt out for the season was made public, Jade Williams responded to criticism on Twitter by reiterating the players made the call.

“I’m amazed at people,” she wrote. “To clarify.. we together as a team, decided to opt out of our season. We are in a pandemic STILL because not enough people are taking it serious. Basketball players are not just entertainment. There shouldn’t be casual attitudes about COVID now a year in.”

Another Duke player, sophomore guard Jaida Patrick, retweeted Jade Williams’ statement to her followers.

Duke coach Kara Lawson has not commented publicly on the decision. After the Louisville game Dec. 9, she said she didn’t think games should be played under the current conditions with the pandemic.

Jade Perry #55, center, and Crystal Langhorne #1, far left, of the Maryland Terrapins fight for a loose ball with Monique Currie #25, right, Mistie Williams and Alison Bales #43, all of the Duke Blue Devils, during the 2006 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game on April 4, 2006 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Ma.