BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Under normal circumstances, Andy Kennedy would have wanted a packed Bartow Arena for his debut as UAB’s head basketball coach. But this season, and his tenure so far, have been anything but normal.
Still, the former UAB star hopes for a great atmosphere today in his first game leading his alma mater.
“I hope there’s some energy in the building,” he said. “I know our guys will be excited to play an opponent other than ourselves and trying to start this on the right foot.”
Ultimately, Kennedy hopes to restore the kind of energy he saw in Bartow during his time as a player and an assistant coach at UAB. He’s the second-leading scorer in school history, and he helped the Blazers reach the NCAA tournament in 1990. That was under longtime coach Gene Bartow, who set the standard for UAB basketball and whose name now adorns the school’s arena.
“I’m really excited,” Kennedy said. “I’m sitting in Coach Bartow, our founding father’s, old office. I played for Coach Bartow. I’ve seen what this program can be. And I’m excited to help us regain the Bartow standard.”
UAB hired Kennedy in March, and just days later the COVID-19 pandemic forced a lockdown that prevented him from meeting many of his new players. Most of those initial greetings came in July, when the NCAA allowed teams to reconvene. Preseason practice has been laden with challenges of its own; Kennedy said players have been in and out of quarantine throughout.
“Your first thought and your last thought every day is: Is everybody okay? Do we have any positives? Who’s going to be available for practice tomorrow?” Kennedy said. “It just changes your whole mindset where it becomes more survival mode than actually getting into the schematics of basketball.”
The Blazers are “somewhat healthy and whole,” Kennedy said, as they enter their opener. They’re being tested for COVID-19 three times a week. Bartow Arena’s capacity will be limited to about 15%. It won’t be a normal opener, but Kennedy hopes it will be a good one, nonetheless.
The Blazers host Alcorn State Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
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