July 26, 2011

Comeback kids: Key players back from injury

When we recently profiled Purdue forward Robbie Hummel and his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, it got us thinking about other players across the country trying to bounce back from season-ending injuries.

As it turns out, there are plenty of key players attempting similar comebacks. In fact, a few schools (we're looking at you, Virginia Tech) have multiple players coming back from devastating injuries.

Here's a list of top players coming back from season-ending injuries. Although Hummel clearly is the most noteworthy player returning from an injury, we left him off this list because we already have done his story. We also left out Indiana guard Maurice Creek because he played in more than half his team's games last season and this list is focused on players who missed more than half the 2010-11 campaign after suffering season-ending injuries.

Cleveland State G D'Aundray Brown: Brown, a 6-foot-4 senior, averaged 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds two years ago, but he makes his biggest impact on defense. Brown ranked 13th nationally with 2.5 steals per game in 2009-10 and made the Horizon League's all-defensive team. He made at least one steal in 30 of his 32 games. Brown missed the 2010-11 season with torn ligaments in his right hand. Cleveland State went 27-9 and reached the second round of the NIT without Brown. With Brown, the Vikings might have been good enough to earn an NCAA bid.

Louisville F Rakeem Buckles and F Jared Swopshire: Buckles made 10 starts in 2010-11 but struggled with a variety of injuries, including a torn ACL in his right knee that ended his season Feb. 27. He averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in only 18.8 minutes last season. Swopshire contributed 7.5 and 6.1 rebounds and ranked sixth in the Big East in free-throw percentage (.840) as a sophomore starter in 2009-10, but he sat out last season with a groin injury that required surgery. Their returns could help Louisville fare better on the glass, as the Cardinals ranked just 12th out of 16 Big East teams in rebound margin. Louisville needs help on the frontcourt as it attempts to replace Terrence Jennings, who went undrafted after leaving school to turn pro at the end of his junior season.

Virginia Tech F Allan Chaney, G Dorenzo Hudson, F Cadarian Raines and F J.T. Thompson: We couldn't pick just one player from Virginia Tech, which was as injury-riddled as any team in the nation last season. Chaney, a Florida transfer, missed the season with a heart condition. Hudson, a third-team All-ACC selection after averaging 15.2 points per game in 2009-10, played nine games last season before a foot injury knocked him out for the rest of the year. Raines had his own foot problem, one that limited him to four games last season. Thompson averaged 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds as a key reserve in 2009-10, but he missed last season with a torn ACL in his left knee. If these four players make successful comebacks, they can help fill the void created by the departures of Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell.

Washington G Abdul Gaddy: This former five-star prospect was delivering a solid sophomore season until he tore the ACL in his left knee in early January. He had averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds through the first 13 games of the season, and had more than three times as many assists as turnovers. Gaddy should be ready for the start of the season and could help the Huskies make up for the loss of star guard Isaiah Thomas, selected by the Sacramento Kings with the final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Gaddy was the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class.

Oklahoma State G Fred Gulley: Although he opened the season as Oklahoma State's starting point guard, Gulley played just seven games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. He also had started 14 of Oklahoma State's last 15 games as a freshman in 2009-10. Gulley, a two-time Arkansas Gatorade prep player of the year, heads into the 2011-12 season as a redshirt sophomore.

George Washington G Lasan Kromah: This 6-foot-5 guard made the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team and led the Colonials in 3-pointers (48) and steals (62) in his freshman season. He also averaged 11.8 points per game to rank second on the team in scoring. But Kromah missed the 2010-11 season after suffering a Lisfranc sprain of his left foot during an October scrimmage; he's expected back for the start of this season. Kromah should provide quite a boost to a team that already returns four starters.

Weber State G Damian Lillard: Aside from Hummel, perhaps no player coming back from injury means as much to his team as Lillard, a 6-2 junior who has earned first-team All-Big Sky honors in each of the two full seasons he has played for Weber State. He led the Big Sky in scoring (19.9) and 3-pointers (84) and was named the conference's most valuable player in 2009-10. He also ranked fourth in the conference in assists (3.6) that season. Lillard averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists through the first nine games of the 2010-11 season before a foot injury knocked him out for the rest of the year. Lillard received a medical redshirt, giving him two more years of eligibility.

Illinois G Sam Maniscalco: This 6-footer had spent his entire college career at Bradley, where he averaged 13.1 points and 3.4 assists two years ago as a second-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection. He also averaged 12.6 points and 3.1 assists per game as a sophomore and made the Valley's all-newcomer team as a freshman. He played six games last season before suffering an ankle injury that required surgery. Maniscalco transferred to Illinois after the season; he earned his bachelor's degree and is eligible to play for Illinois immediately. He could help the Illini replace departed point guard Demetri McCamey, whose 733 career assists rank him second in school history.

New Mexico State F Wendell McKines: This 6-6 forward nearly averaged a double-double two years ago with 10.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while earning honorable mention All-WAC honors and helping New Mexico State reach the NCAA tournament. He missed last season after breaking his left foot during an October practice. After going 22-12 with McKines in the lineup two years ago, the Aggies slipped to 16-17 without him last season.

Wyoming G Luke Martinez and F Afam Muojeke: The key player in this tandem is Muojeke, the Mountain West's freshman of the year in 2008-09. Muojeke averaged 13.8 points and 5.3 rebounds that season, but injuries have limited him for each of the past two seasons. He averaged 16.8 points per game in 2009-10 despite missing 12 games with a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee. Muojeke played just 11 games last season before he went down again, this time with torn meniscus in his left knee. Martinez, a junior college transfer from Williston State College (N.D.), was on track to earn substantial playing time last season before a broken elbow knocked him out.

Xavier G Brad Redford: After shooting a combined 101-of-227 (44.5 percent) from 3-point range his first two years at Xavier, Redford missed the 2010-11 season with a knee injury. It continued a recent run of bad luck for Redford, who struggled with a hip problem late in the 2009-10 season. Redford led the Atlantic 10 and set a school record with his 3-point percentage of .465 in his freshman year. His return could help Xavier improve its accuracy from beyond the arc. The Musketeers made 5.4 3-pointers per game last season, the lowest average among the 14 A-10 teams.

Auburn G Frankie Sullivan: This 6-1 guard averaged 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game two years ago. He ranked second in the SEC in steals and free-throw percentage (.851). Sullivan would have been Auburn's top returning player last season, but he tore the ACL in his left knee during the summer. Sullivan returned in late December and played six games - averaging 8.2 points and 3.0 assists - but he sat out the rest of the season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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