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Gonzaga adjusts travel plans, safety measures for opening trip

GU basketball players board their plane for Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday morning.  (Courtesy of Gonzaga athletics)

Gonzaga is off on what might be the longest road trip in program history.

The Zags flew on a charter flight Monday to Florida where they’ll face Kansas on Thursday and Auburn on Friday in Fort Myers. From there, GU travels to Indianapolis for a Dec. 2 date with Tennessee and a Dec. 5 showdown versus No. 2 Baylor.

The Zags have made several adjustments to their travel itinerary for the two-week trip with the COVID-19 pandemic already disrupting early-season schedules. At least four future GU opponents – Baylor, Tennessee, Northern Arizona and San Diego – are currently dealing with virus concerns. Head coaches Scott Drew (Baylor) and Rick Barnes (Tennessee) recently tested positive. Tennessee canceled its first two games at home but said facing GU on Dec. 2 “has not been ruled out.”

Kansas coach Bill Self and GU counterpart Mark Few exchanged texts Sunday night.

“Mark said, ‘So far so good with the Zags,’ ” Self said Monday. “I said, ‘Same here with the Jayhawks.’ ”

Gonzaga has trimmed the size of its travel party, which typically numbers about 30 people. Boosters that help cover expenses for charter flights won’t travel with the team.

“Our benefactors that have continued to help us aren’t traveling because we want to reduce possible exposure for them and for the team,” athletic director Mike Roth said.

Gonzaga tweaked last week’s testing schedule to Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, pushing the most recent test back a day to better line up with Monday’s departure.

The Gonzaga men and women charter with Denver Air and the company is providing a bigger plane “so we’ll have more room and we can spread everybody out more,” Roth said.

Roth said Denver Air’s charter and commercial planes have state-of-the-art HEPA filter systems and follow FAA cleaning and sanitation requirements. The two pilots and one attendant on GU’s trip are part of the company’s testing regimen.

Molly Gilbert, lead team physician for the men’s and women’s programs, has been in contact with officials in Florida for weeks “to make sure we’re prepared for their protocols because once we arrive we’re under their jurisdiction,” Roth said.

Protocols at tournaments/events could vary, but Roth said Fort Myers and Indianapolis event organizers are in charge of administering tests.

Gonzaga’s women will charter later this week for three games at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“They’ve had a huge outbreak (in South Dakota) but they have a really tight ship for the tournament,” Roth said. “They get off the plane and get on a bus, your bus not shared with another team, to the hotel. The hotel floor will be Gonzaga’s and there’s a ballroom for meetings and meals that no one else is allowed in the room.

“The Pentagon (arena) is within walking distance, across the street, from my understanding.”

Gonzaga will soon begin daily testing.

“We’re going to go to the antigen (test), which is what the Pac-12 is doing. It’s less expensive and the results come back right away,” Roth said. “It’s highly predictive, just not as predictive as a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. If we have a positive test, we’ll immediately test the individual with a PCR.”