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College athletes choosing whether to stay in US or head home

Last Updated Mar 25, 2020 at 4:06 pm PDT

FILE - In this Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, file photo, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes talks with guard Santiago Vescovi during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Vescovi, from Uruguay, is one of several international players on the Tennessee team, which also has players from France, Serbia and Finland. With competition canceled across all NCAA divisions because of the new coronavirus, many of these international athletes face a dilemma. Their campuses are shut down, but the coronavirus situation in their homeland may be worse than it is in the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

STORRS, Conn. — All but one of Anna Makurat’s teammates headed home after the NCAA cancelled this year’s post-season basketball tournament and the school suspended classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 19-year-old UConn freshman from Poland, the decision was not that easy, especially with ever-increasing travel restrictions to and from Europe. She worried about classes restarting while she was overseas and when — or if — she might be able to get back to campus.

Makurat is one of more than 20,000 foreign athletes currently competing at NCAA schools, according to the organization. With competition cancelled across all NCAA divisions, many of those athletes face a similar dilemma. Their campuses are shut down, but the coronavirus situation in their homeland is worse than it is in the United States.

The NCAA has advised schools to handle the situation as they see fit “for the health and safety of their coaches, staff and student athletes.”

For the last two weeks, Makurat has been one of about 50 UConn athletes still living at school with the campus largely a ghost town. She spent a lot of her time on her computer and phone, video chatting with family back home. She was able to go out to dinner one night with coach Geno Auriemma and teammate Evina Westbrook, who remained on campus to get treatment for an injury.

Plans changed again after UConn decided to cancel all events for the rest of the semester and move learning online. Makurat was booked Wednesday on a flight home. She will have to self-quarantine for two weeks when she gets back.

“Poland has pretty much closed everything so everyone is staying home anyway,” she said. “I have a place at home to work out and we have a basketball hoop outside, so I can get back to shooting. It wasn’t a hard decision, once I knew it was an option. I think everyone right now wants to be with their families, and I’m the same.”

Wisconsin-Milwaukee women’s tennis player Lucy Harper, who is from Bolton, England, has decided to stay in the U.S. for now with a friend’s family.

“A lot of the flights out to England are getting cancelled and they’ve actually closed two of the terminals down at Manchester (England) airport,” she said. “I just made the decision to stay here for now, because I don’t know sort of when I’ll be able to come back if I leave. We don’t know how long this is going to last.”

Most of her team is from overseas. She said about half the international players have gone home.

Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has players from France, Serbia, Uruguay and Finland, which meant Mary-Carter Eggert, the director of basketball operations, became a travel agent, l ooking for the best flights.

“The fact of the matter is, their parents want them home just like I would want my kids home,” coach Rick Barnes said.

This past week, several women’s basketball players from the University of California figured out their arrangements. Sara Anastasieski left on a flight home to Sydney, Australia, late Thursday.

“She was scheduled to leave Friday but that airline cancelled and she was scrambling last minute,” Cal coach Charmin Smith said.

Evelien Lutje Schipholt, from The Netherlands, is staying with teammate Cailyn Crocker and her family in Southern California. Chen Yue, of Beijing, is currently with friends near Berkeley as the Bay Area continues its shelter in place order.

Three women’s basketball players from the University of San Francisco — sisters Marta and Marija Galic and Lucija Kostic — thought they were finally safely home in Zagreb, Croatia, late last week only to experience a 5.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the capital early Sunday. There have been aftershocks since.

“When we — sis Marija and I — finally reunited with our big family, the stress definitely decreased and we thought everything was going to be normal. However, that one morning a really big earthquake happened. It was the strongest one I have ever experienced,” Marta Galic wrote in a message to The AP. “The whole house was shaking and things were falling on the ground for more than 10 seconds. I think that it was terrifying is not enough to say.”

UConn, meanwhile, has made arrangements to keep dorm rooms, and at least one dining hall, open for the 1,200 mostly foreign students, including athletes, who haven’t been able to go anywhere else.

“While all students have been encouraged to leave, UConn is committed to providing students who must stay in Storrs with the support they need while prioritizing their health and well-being.,” athletic director David Benedict said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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AP sports writers Steve Megargee in Milwaukee, Teresa Walker in Nashville and Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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Pat Eaton-Robb, The Associated Press