WSU’s Smith contracts COVID-19

Washington State head coach Kyle Smith smiles at a referee after arguing with the same referee about a charging call on forward Jeff Pollard (13) during the second half of a Pac-12 Conference game on Saturday afternoon at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman.

Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week, and will be sidelined for the Cougars’ season opener Wednesday as he spends the next several days in isolation, according to an announcement from the school Wednesday.

“I was informed last night that I had tested positive for COVID-19 after experiencing some minor symptoms,” Smith said in a news release. “I will continue to follow the advice of our medical staff and follow their guidance to get back to the team as soon as possible. I will continue to stay connected remotely and know our staff and players will work diligently leading into our first game next week.”

As part of the school’s routine testing protocols, Smith received a positive antigen test, which later was confirmed by a PCR test. No other players or personnel within the program have been placed in coronavirus protocol, WSU confirmed.

“Glad we caught it when we did and that no one else has been infected that I know of,” Smith told Matt Chazanow on the WSU coaches’ radio show.

In accordance with Pac-12 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Smith cannot return to his post with the Cougars until he has self-isolated for a stretch of time. Smith, as upbeat as usual, told Chazanow he feels “pretty well,” and expects to miss about 10 days.

That means the second-year coach won’t be on the bench for the Cougs’ season opener at Beasley Coliseum against Texas Southern.

“We’re thankful that the symptoms aren’t severe with Kyle, but to his credit, and to the credit of our medical team, the second he started feeling symptoms, he took a test then went into the protocol,” athletic director Pat Chun said on the radio show.

“They’re gearing up for a season, and I know they’ve gotten a lot of work done. ... I feel bad for Kyle because I know how much he wants to be a part of it.”

Second-year assistant Jim Shaw — a longtime basketball figure in the Northwest with head coaching experience — will the reins for the time being.

Before landing in Pullman, Shaw coached his alma mater, Western Oregon, to a 102-30 record in four years, which included three NCAA Division II national tournament appearances and a No. 1 ranking.

Shaw was a two-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference coach of the year and in 2017-18, was the National Basketball Coaches’ Association’s West Region coach of the year. He also spent nine years as an assistant at Washington.

On the radio show, Chun said Smith had made clear in the past how significant it is to have an assistant with head coaching experience.

“He wanted that sage, veteran coach on his bench,” Chun said. “(The coaches) are all in sync. They have a plan and they stick to that plan in how they game plan, and how they implement the game plan and how they execute it. So, I know the key trigger guy is not gonna be there, but hopefully when it’s all said and done, it’s just one game. But we’re keeping our fingers crossed, making sure we get that opening game in too.”

Smith told Chazanow he has the utmost confidence in the assistants and players, citing the positive, hard-working culture that’s been instilled in the program.

“My leadership style is really about empowerment,” Smith said. “Laying it out, what they need to do, how we do things — we do things a certain way — and the players pick up on that and they lead each other, and the staff is the same way. Luckily, we got all the staff intact.”

It’s not yet clear whether Smith will be available to coach WSU’s second game, Nov. 28 at home against Eastern Washington.

“I’ve never been in this situation,” Smith said. “In the last 28 years, I’ve only missed one shoot-around because of an illness.”

Smith is the first reported positive case of coronavirus among Pac-12 men’s basketball coaches, and one of few Division I hoops coaches nationally to have contracted the virus — Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Mississippi’s Kermit Davis announced earlier this week they had tested positive, and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo did the same Nov. 9.

“I kinda like that I just get to sit there and watch, and take notes and talk to them the next day,” Smith said. “It’ll be an adjustment when I get back too, I imagine. ... But we’ll figure it out.”

Added Chun, who poked his head into WSU’s practice recently: “There was not one percentage drop-off in the level of that practice, and that’s a testament to Kyle Smith. ... (It) was Kyle Smith’s practice without Kyle Smith there.”

Colton Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

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