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'I feel badly for our players': Suspension of UIL boys basketball tourney leaves some teams in limbo

Class 5A Wagner was scheduled to play Thursday night, and 6A Brandeis on Friday night at Alamodome.

SAN ANTONIO — The University Interscholastic League's decision to suspend its boys basketball state tournament after only four games Thursday at the Alamodome left Wagner coach Rodney Clark fuming.

"I'm pissed," Clark said. "They should have called it off last night instead of starting it and then suspending it."

San Antonio area schools Brandeis, Wagner and Cole reached the state tournament, but only Cole had the chance to play before the event was suspended amid fears of the coronavirus.

Wagner was scheduled to play defending state champion Mansfield Timberview in the Class 5A semifinals Thursday at 7 p.m. Timberview beat the Thunderbirds in the title game last year.

Brandeis, which made the state tournament for the first time since opening in 2008, was scheduled to play defending champ Duncanville in the 6A semifinals Friday at 7 p.m.

"I figured that with the climate of everything that's been going on nationally, they were going to err way on the side of caution," Brandeis coach Marc Gardner said. "So we kind of expected this to happen. It's crazy

"I'm disappointed and I feel badly for our players because they deserved to experience the atmosphere of playing in the state tournament. But I'm not really surprised by the UIL's decision."

In the end, the specter of the coronavirus forced the hand of UIL officials. Earlier Thursday, the UIL announced that attendance at all tournament games would be limited to 500 fans per team.

But by the time Cole started warming up for its Class 3A state semifinal against Peaster, both teams knew their game would be the last of the tournament until further notice.

Cole beat Peaster 58-44 and would have played defending champion Dallas Madison for the title Saturday at 10 a.m. The Trojans, who defeated Coldspring-Oakhurst 90-73 in the first 3A semifinal Thursday, beat Cole in the state semifinals last year. 

"Just taking the extra precaution," UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said, referring to the decision to suspend the tournament.

The UIL governs extracurricular activities for public schools in Texas.

Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
Vince Iwuchukwu, Cole's 6-foot-11 sophomore center, towers over his teammates after the Cougars 58-44 victory against Peaster in the Class 3A state semifinals Thursday at the Alamodome.

"We thought we could get the first couple of days in," Breithaupt said. "We were going to reduce the attendance on Saturday. We've always been concerned with what's going on.

"We got the girls tournament in last weekend. We thought we could get this done, but it was just too much out there. Too many people canceling. MLB (Major League Baseball), NBA and college basketball. When the Big 12 tournament went under, that really got our attention."

Given the circumstances, Breithaupt had little choice but to suspend the tournament. 

"We said, 'If California, Kentucky and Oklahoma and Missouri and all those other states that I've been in contact with canceled theirs (high school basketball tournament) on short notice, we should probably do the same thing,'" Breithaupt said. "It's just a safety precaution."

Breithaupt left open the possibility of resuming the boys tournament later.

"We'll play," Breithaupt said. "We're going to try to come back. We'll have to wait until this peaks and ebbs. When it does that, we get a chance to come back and finish it up in late March or early April. We're leaving it open."

The tournament started with the first of two Class A state semifinal games at 8:30 a.m. Dallas Madison played Coldspring Oakhurst in the first 3A semifinal at 1:30 and Cole-Peaster followed at 3 p.m.

The Wagner community had gathered at the school to give the Thunderbirds a sendoff when Clark learned that the UIL had suspended the tournament.

"All the players were here and we were getting ready to go eat," Clark said. "Fire engines were here. We had a police escort. Everybody was feeling good, and then I get the word we're not playing. It's very upsetting.

Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
The UIL's message on the Alamodome JumboTron tells the story of the fate of the boys basketball state tournament this year.

"I just wish they had handled it differently. It makes no sense to start the tournament and then stop it."

Senior forward Jordyn Arnette scored 19 points and sophomore Silas Livingston had 10 to key Cole's victory over Peaster. Vince Iwuchukwu, the Cougars' 6-foot-11 sophomore center, finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

Cole (33-6) led 25-21 at the half and was up 35-26 heading into the fourth qharter. The Cougars outscored Peaster (34-6) 23-18 in the final period.

Cole had yearned for an opportunity to turn the tables on Madison, which beat the Cougars 43-33 in last year's semifinals. But as disappointed as Cole players were about not having a chance to play the Trojans on Saturday, 

"It's crazy," Iwuchukwu said. "Last night the NBA shuts down. This morning the NHL shuts down and the NCAA shuts down. The UIL shut down. You have to stay save, honestly. If the UIL shuts it down, then they shut it down.

"Safety of every team that came and made it here and all the fans is more important than us winning a state championship."

Cole coach Noe Cantu expressed empathy for the teams that did not have the opportunity to play in the state tournament.

"It's definitely an unfortunate situation for everybody," Cantu said. "These kids, they work so hard to get to this point. It's not like they work for a week or two weeks, or just this basketball season. A lot of these guys put in the time in the summer and the offseason.

"They prepare themselves for this moment. It's really unfortunate for those not to be able to play. We're really lucky that we got to play. Obviously, we've got to do what we're told. It just so happened that we got the last game."