ALBANY — Thursday morning, head coach Mike Perno realized he should check on something.
Could someone locate his Saint Rose men’s basketball team’s uniforms?
There was a sigh of relief when the answer to that question was a positive one, just one of the last hurdles the program needed to clear ahead of making its season debut Friday against a 3-0 St. Thomas Aquinas program that’s ranked No. 17 in the NABC National Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the D2SIDA Media Poll.
“All of our guys are just itching to play,” Perno said Thursday afternoon during a phone interview.
Neither the Saint Rose men’s nor women’s basketball teams have played any games yet this winter season. A Division II program, Saint Rose is a member of the Northeast-10 Conference that is not playing league games this season because of issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the conference’s teams are allowed to schedule games on their own.
Perno received confirmation at approximately 1 p.m. Wednesday that Saint Rose had cleared its basketball teams to try to play games. Three hours later, Perno had an agreement from St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Tobin Anderson — a former Siena men’s basketball assistant coach — to play at 1 p.m. Friday in a spectator-free Daniel P. Nolan Gymnasium in Albany.
The last time Perno’s team played in that facility?
That was Feb. 25 of last year, when Saint Rose won 75-73 against American International.
Perno said he “would’ve played anyone” in order to get this season started.
“I just wanted to get a game in,” Perno said. “Whether it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Just one.”
Saint Rose athletic director Lori Anctil said it’s possible, though, that the men’s team could pick up a second game this weekend if it can find another opponent. The women’s basketball program, too, is still actively trying to find an opponent or two to play as soon as this weekend.
“Everything is kind of tentative,” Anctil said.
She added: “I’m just really excited and happy for everyone.”
While the Capital Region’s Division I basketball programs have all played games this season, the area’s other college programs haven’t played. After taking nearly a two-month break from practicing that started in mid-November, Anctil said Saint Rose’s basketball teams restarted workouts on Jan. 19. Since that point, each program’s personnel has been tested three times per week — the same as UAlbany’s and Siena’s teams — for COVID-19, and Anctil said both programs have had zero positive tests during that span of time.
Anctil said Saint Rose’s athletic department had partnered with UAlbany’s RNA Institute to have its tests administered.
“Without that happening, I’m not sure where we would be,” Anctil said. “[UAlbany] has been awesome to work with.”
In regards to no positive COVID-19 test results, Anctil admitted she “didn’t expect that to be the case.” The school’s athletic department worked to educate its athletes about safety measures they should take, but there is no way to guarantee that one won’t contract the novel coronavirus. Each of the Capital Region’s four Division I programs have ample safety precautions in place, but they’ve all needed to pause in-person team activities multiple times this season because of positive COVID-19 test results, and two of those programs — the Siena men and UAlbany women — are currently paused.
“We’ve just been very, very fortunate not to have any positives yet,” Anctil said.
Perno said his players are all taking online classes this semester.
“The dorm room and the gym are the only places they’re going,” Perno said.
Perno said members of the athletic department met with his team following Wednesday’s practice to help reveal to the players they’d actually get a chance to play this season.
“Their eyes lit up,” Perno said.
Then, the team’s coaching staff spent a long night preparing for a St. Thomas Aquinas program. The chance to scout, develop a game plan and figure out a starting lineup was one Perno relished.
“It was really fun to do that again,” Perno said.