Before first ball goes up, Loyola's a wreck Rash of injuries hits Ellerbe's Greyhounds

State college preview

November 22, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

How bad is Loyola College's luck when it comes to basketball injuries? Sophomore Lamar Butler, a 6-foot-11 center who was expected to log plenty of minutes, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and was lost for the season -- during Midnight Madness.

An hour into the Greyhounds' first practice, senior swingman Anthony Smith hyperextended his left elbow and tore ligaments when another player fell on him. A week later, freshman guard Larry Harris chipped a bone in his ankle. Two days later, senior guard Milt Williams broke his left thumb.

Junior guard Mike Powell got the jump on all of them. He returned from summer break with shin splints.

Then there's forward Blanchard Hurd, a medical redshirt last year whose recovery from knee surgery has been painfully slow.

Welcome to coach Brian Ellerbe's third season at Loyola -- and his recurring nightmare.

"It's devastating," he said. "You look at us on paper, and we were pretty optimistic. That's where we were in mid-August. Once school started and practice started, they were dropping like flies."

Hurd, 6-7, was a prolific scorer and rebounder as a senior at Milford Mill and one of Ellerbe's prize recruits. But he hyperextended his right knee and tore the meniscus cartilage a week before the first game and hasn't been right since.

He played in the opener, had surgery, then came back for a Dec. loss to Notre Dame at the Baltimore Arena. Hurd appeared in six games before being redshirted, averaging 3.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 140 minutes.

"I kept coming on and off, and we just decided it was better to sit out. It was giving me too many problems," he said.

"I was going through a tough time because I never thought I'd be able to play back to the level I was playing, but I think I will as time goes by. Right now, I'd say my knee is 80 percent, but it's stronger and I'll be able to deal with it. I should be able to get through the year."

Because the knee swells, Hurd can practice only three or four times a week. He started Monday's exhibition game and was "very, very average, at best," Ellerbe said, and no one knows how much Hurd will be available this season.

"We never know from day to day," said Ellerbe, whose team was 12-15 overall last season, 8-6 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "He wakes up and it's, 'How does it feel? Has the swelling gone down?' We try to keep him off it as much as possible.

"I don't know that Hurd will ever really be normal, but we hope -- knock on wood -- that everybody else will be fine by the time we get into conference play."

Since Hurd can't be exposed to a regular practice routine, his conditioning suffers. "He's 6-7, and sitting around at that size is not very good," Ellerbe said.

Butler's mishap occurred while the Greyhounds were taking turns dunking. He was hurt even though he, himself, didn't take part in the jamming.

"He actually did it while he was rebounding the basketball," Ellerbe said. "He turned very quickly, sharply, and just went down. It was a real freakish thing."

Harris, who is part of an outstanding freshman class, hurt his ankle during a routine fast-break drill. "He went up for a rebound and came down funny," Ellerbe said. "He's just starting to put pressure on it, so it could be late December for him."

Ellerbe said he doesn't even know how Williams broke his thumb. It was thought to be a sprain until X-rays proved otherwise, and he's questionable for tomorrow's season opener

at UMBC.

Smith will play, but his practice time also has been limited and his health is tenuous. "It's the equivalent of an ACL tear in his elbow," Ellerbe said. "If he hit it really hard again, he'd be done."

"I'm about 85 percent," Smith said. "It probably won't get back full until after the season, when I can rest it."

Loyola's frontcourt took a beating last season, and not from the opposition. Besides Hurd, the Greyhounds lost then-freshman center Roderick Platt, 6-10 and 255 pounds, to a knee injury on Feb. 2, removing the team's leading rebounder.

That meant more playing time for another freshman, 6-10 center Duane Johnson, who still was getting comfortable after missing the first 10 games because of shoulder surgery.

Ellerbe and his staff assembled another excellent recruiting class, but the losses continued when forward Nsilo Abraham, the league's Rookie of the Year, who played the later part of last season with a broken nose, was dismissed from school for academic reasons.

As for the Greyhounds' string of injuries, Hurd said: "We'd rather we got hurt in the preseason than the regular season. Get them all out of the way now."

A team that started out with good depth has become so thin that three walk-ons and an assistant coach are among those running the floor at practices. How can Ellerbe know what to expect from the Greyhounds, who, in the league's preseason poll, were picked to finish second in the MAAC?

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