Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The device is called Game Ready and its goal is to live up to its name.
Get players ready for the game.
Athletes slip their injured, swollen body parts into a fitted sleeve attached to a hose that flushes 34-degree water around the traumatized area, all the while squeezing to apply compression.
The 20 minutes in the Game Ready is not exactly pleasant. That’s why Scottie Wilbekin got a little wide-eyed when team trainer David “Duke” Werner ordered another treatment for the senior point guard Wednesday.
“Again?” Wilbekin said.
The player sighed.
“All right. Lemme go get my phone.”
There is medicine and then there is sports medicine. Chances are, the former is not for you or me or Grandma. We don’t have a game to play next week.
Athletic trainers employed by teams are charged with collaborating with physicians to optimize the activity and participation of their patients, with the individual athlete’s best interest in mind, of course. In the job description, defined by the National Athletic Trainers Association, the duties encompass “the prevention, diagnosis and intervention of emergency, acute and chronic medical conditions involving impairment, function limitations and disabilities.”
In season, that means a plan for rehabilitation that gets an athlete back in action as soon (and safely) as possible.
“Sports medicine is a much more aggressive approach,” Werner said. “You can be more aggressive because you’re dealing with finely tuned athletes. Their bodies are so strong and their such healthy individuals that you can push the envelope a little bit.”
In the case of the Florida basketball team, Werner hasn’t just pushed envelopes this season. He’s pushed Priority Mail trucks. By necessity, mind you.
The Gators have dealt with a slew of injuries -- some nagging, some acute -- and illnesses that at times have rendered practices to 4-on-4 scrimmages. That’s been a problem for Coach Billy Donovan, who scripts practices in detail and wants guys, if possible, on the floor for at least two practices before a game.
Circumstances have made for standing-room-only crowds in the training room in a season only eight games old.
Both point guards, Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill, have suffered ankle sprains during games. Forward Will Yeguete started the season on a limited practice schedule after offseason knee surgery. Guard Eli Carter, a transfer from Rutgers, remains limited due to the broken leg he suffered last February. Guard Dillon Graham is also done for the year with a hip injury. Guard DeVon Walker sprained his foot at Jacksonville and has played just four minutes in two games since. Guard Michael Frazier had mononucleosis in the preseason. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith was bed-ridden with a virus.
It’s been such a run of malady, the Gators added a pair of walk-ons during the preseason to up participations numbers in practice -- and one of them, Lexx Edwards, got sick this week and was told to stay home.
“Even our backup walk-ons can’t go,” Werner said, only half-joking.
For those searching for a glass-half-full view, at least the team is dealing with these issues now versus in the heart of the Southeastern Conference season. Then again, the 15th-ranked Gators are halfway through a demanding conga line of non-conference foes. UF beat Florida State by a point last Friday, lost at Connecticut by a point Monday and now face No. 6 Kansas at home Tuesday and No. 16 Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic one week later in New York City.
In a perfect world, the No. 15 Gators (6-2) would have both their starting point guard, Wilbekin, and heralded backup freshman, Hill, back and available for the Big 12/SEC showdown against the sixth-ranked Jayhawks (6-1) next week. Wilbekin and Hill, even with two truly healthy ankles between with, make the Gators a lot better.
But sports medicine is an imperfect world. The goal is to get the two back in sound mind and body.
“You can’t rush it,” Werner said. “But there are ways to the accelerate the process.”
Wilbekin was lucky, actually.
When Florida’s senior point guard went up for a rebound late in Monday night’s game at UConn, he came down on the foot of Huskies guard Ryan Boatright and immediately fell to the floor and grabbed his ankle, wincing in pain.
Wilbekin is as tough as they come, so the concern on the bench was considerable, given what he means to the team. He walked off the floor, accompanied by team trainer Werner, and was in the locker room when Shabazz Napier, who Wilbekin would have been guarding, hit a 15-foot jumpshot at the buzzer for the UConn win.
“There was a [game] clock in the locker room counting down, so I was watching it and hoping to hear silence,” he said. “For a split-second, it hit zero, and there was nothing, but then ... .”
After the game, Wilbekin walked out of the Gampel Pavilion without the assistance of a protective boot or crutches. That was an encouraging sign, but Wilbekin sat out the two practices since and his status for the Kansas game remains questionable.
Now compare his situation to that of Hill, the turbo-charged rookie who started UF’s first four games at the point while Wilbekin served a suspension to open the season.
In the Nov. 18 win against Southern, Hill was doing what he does best; going full-speed in the open floor. Hill saw a crease in the defense and attacked the basket, but after picking up his dribble planted on the foot of a Southern player and collapsed to the floor. Hill didn’t just wince, he shrieked in pain.
Replays (and still photos) of the injury looked grisly.
When Hill was carried off the court that night (right), things looked very serious.
“It was the worst pain I’d ever had spraining my ankle -- and I’ve been playing basketball a long time,” Hill said. “I was thinking it was really, really bad.”
X-rays were negative, though, and UF’s health team determined Hill had a high ankle sprain and likely would be out a month.
Monday will mark three weeks.
The Kansas game will be three weeks and a day.
“Some guys work harder than others when it comes to rehab,” Werner said. “Kasey Hill was literally in our training room eight hours a day.”
From the outset, hobbled to his morning classes, but would be at the complex for what has come to be known in the sports medicine field as “RICE” treatment. Student trainer Ryan Blount, this year's intern after transferring from South Florida College, explained it.
R, as in rest. Stay off it.
I, as in ice. To reduce the swelling.
C, as in compression. To squeeze away the blood rushing to the injury.
E, as in elevation. Gravity is good.
This was basically Hill’s day:
* 20 minutes in the Game Ready sleeve (pictured right), with his ankle a hot pink color when it came out.
* 20 minutes in the Normatec, another sleeve-like device, only this one covers the entire leg and immerses the limb in intermittent compression.
* Exercises. Some as simple as wrapping a towel around the top of the foot and pulling to promote range of motion -- 100 times.
* Friend brings him lunch to eat on the training table.
* Then a nap.
“And then he’d wake up and start it all over again,” Werner said. “Maybe five times through.”
Sounds tedious, but the end game is, well, the game. Plus, there are ways to pass the time.
Always bring your cell phone.
“Vine. Twitter, Instagram,” Hill said. “And the TV.”
Hill was off crutches in two days (“Once he could walk pain-free,” Werner said) and out of his protective boot in a week (“Always a mental break-through.”). And even while using both, Hill still did his regular-scheduled training sessions with strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene.
“Upper body only,” said Greene, adding Hill began doing lunges (pictured right) only this week when he got the go-ahead from Werner. “Nothing lower body until Duke cleared him.”
Once out of the boot, Hill was shooting baskets and after two weeks had his first individual instruction session. Dribbling, jumpers, coming off screens, layups, etc. All under the watchful eyes of Werner, who evaluated Hill’s movements and stretch, inquiring about his pain.
Massages, courtesy of therapist Brad Patterson, usually cap off the day.
On Wednesday, Wilbekin and Hill did their individual instruction workout together in the women’s gym while the team practiced on the men’s side. On Thursday, the two did some light non-contact work during the normal practice.
Big game Tuesday. Still more work to do.
“I want to play,” Wilbekin said.
“Me too,” Hill chimed in.
There’s no magic elixir that will get them on the floor for Kansas. Their bodies will have the ultimate say (and must be seconded by the medical staff), but Werner’s know-how and a player’s want-to can go a long way to hastening the process.
“The more you can do, the better,” Werner said. “Some people won’t agree with that, but it’s my approach and it’s worked for us. And when the guy is motivated, if he’s looking to come in and do treatment, we’re going to do treatment.”
It’ll be another crowded, productive weekend in the training room.