Injury, suspension updates from around the land

Originally Published: October 4, 2006
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Just be patient with South Florida for a few more months. If you want to judge the Bulls this season, have at them once they get into Big East play, because that's when this team will become whole again.

As teams across America get ready for the official start of practice on Oct. 13, few are dealing with as many injuries as South Florida. The Bulls were so beat up in August that they could dress only six players on their summer tour of Italy.

"We didn't get as much out of it," said South Florida coach Robert McCullum, who guided the Bulls to a 1-15 inaugural season in the Big East, 7-22 overall.

He said had he known about the lack of healthy bodies sooner, he would have canceled the trip.

Chris Howard, a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman guard, tore his knee twice last season. McCullum is convinced that Howard would have been a Big East all-freshman team member. Now, since he tore the left knee again in June, Howard is questionable for this season until at least December or January, depending on his recovery.

Redshirt freshman forward Zaronn Cann played sparingly last season (a total of 28 minutes) and was shut down for knee surgery on Feb. 1. McCullum said Cann wasn't ready to go on the Italy trip. The hope is that he'll be OK to go for the start of the season.

Oh, and last month, the Bulls lost Dante Curry, a 6-4 freshman guard, for the season with a torn Achilles.

When practice starts next week, South Florida will have 10 players available, but only eight are eligible to play for the first semester (with Cann's health pending). Two of the top players on the roster are Arizona transfer Jesus Verdejo and LSU transfer Kentrell Gransberry, both of whom are expected to compete for a starting position when they become eligible at semester's end, in time for the Duel in the Desert, a three-game round-robin tournament at UNLV.

The schedule before those two become eligible isn't as daunting -- with reason. Still, there are plenty of potential pitfalls with games against Richmond at home and a dangerous road swing to provisional D-I member Winston-Salem State (has a Big East school ever gone to a provisional D-I member for a road game?) and East Carolina before playing Norfolk State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and UNLV in Las Vegas.

McCullum said he is hopeful Howard will be back by a game at UAB on Dec. 27 (the Bulls play host to Missouri State after the UNLV tournament). A game with Wake Forest in Tampa at the St. Pete Times Forum, site of next March's ACC tournament, looms on Dec. 29 before a home game against Bethune-Cookman. Reality starts at Connecticut on Jan. 2.

The Bulls, who are attempting the long climb out of the Big East cellar, will do it without Solomon Jones, who was one of the top under-the-radar big men in the country last season. Jones, who went in the second round of the NBA draft to Atlanta, won't be replaced easily.

"We'll need to survive early," McCullum said of the first two months of the season. "The biggest challenge for us in the Big East was not having a healthy squad. If we were, we would have won more games."

Replacing Jones will be up to Gransberry, sophomore Aris Williams and senior Melvyn Richardson, who was one of the surprise stars on the foreign tour. The committee of three, which really is two until Gransberry gets eligible, will have to find a way to come up with Jones-like numbers (13.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks a game).

"We've got enough games early for our guys to play together before the Big East," McCullum said. "We'll rely on freshmen, kind of like Marquette did."

McCullum is a realist and knows his freshmen might not have the impact the Golden Eagles' crew did a year ago. For now, he starts each practice with two thoughts, knowing he must get his team ready with limited options for a nonconference schedule while planning for his full squad come the start of Big East play.

South Florida is not alone in trying to manage injury and/or suspension woes. Here are the rest of the major updates leading into the start of practice:

Air ForceAir Force: Nick Welch, who broke his left foot in July of 2005, and then damaged a tendon in his left ankle in September of the same year, is back playing and is 100 percent cleared for practice.

ArizonaArizona: Jawann McClellan, who didn't go on the Labor Day trip to Vancouver as he continued his recovery from a knee injury, is cleared to practice. So, too, is freshman Chase Budinger, who had been out after having his tonsils removed.

UConnConnecticut: As reported previously on ESPN.com, A.J. Price is cleared for practice after missing the last two years due to illness (brain) and suspension (theft). He's expected to be the starting point guard. Meanwhile, highly touted freshman center Hasheem Thabeet's availability is still an unknown -- for both practices and games -- as he awaits a ruling from the NCAA clearinghouse (requests for more information are ongoing).

CreightonCreighton: Nate Funk is back after playing in only six games last season. He's cleared to participate and isn't showing any signs of his shoulder injury bothering him. Meanwhile, point guard Josh Dotzler, out with a torn knee for the final seven games last season, isn't cleared yet. The Bluejays will take their time before bringing him back to the court.

DukeDuke: Sophomore forward Josh McRoberts, held out of contact drills last month, is cleared to practice next week after having back surgery over the summer.

Ga. TechGeorgia Tech: Top returning scorer Anthony Morrow (16 ppg) could be back by late October but coach Paul Hewitt said Tuesday he's targeting Nov. 5 after Morrow suffered a stress fracture in his lower back. The injury is likened to one suffered by former Connecticut center Emeka Okafor.

"We're playing it safe with him right now," Hewitt said.

Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets won't have 6-8 freshman Mouhammad Faye for the start of practice thanks to a ligament injury to his right (shooting) hand, one considered similar to that suffered by Ohio State freshman Greg Oden. There is no set date for Faye's return.

HoustonHouston: Guard Lanny Smith suffered a displaced fracture in his left big toe in August that required surgery. He's out of the boot and off crutches. He's doing form shooting, but nothing that puts the pressure of running on the foot. The hope is that he can make it back for the Conference USA season. Smith averaged a dozen points per game last season and is critical to the Cougars' on-the-go offense.

IndianaIndiana: D.J. White, out for all but five games last season with a broken foot, is playing without any restrictions. He ran the mile this week and isn't expected to be slowed once practice starts under new coach Kelvin Sampson.

IowaIowa: After being arrested and charged with theft at a mall last month, Mike Henderson and Tyler Smith are not expected to miss practice but any kind of game suspension is unknown at this time. Henderson and Smith are expected to be two of the most important members of the Hawkeyes' top eight.

Kansas StateKansas State: Cartier Martin is expected to practice next week after being suspended over the summer for a violation of team rules. Martin is the Wildcats' top returning player. An official announcement could come next week.

LouisvilleLouisville: Forward David Padgett, who was shut down for the final nine games last season with a knee injury, is doing well. He's going through light individual workouts but hadn't been cleared for pickup games. He'll be evaluated again next week.

Meanwhile, guard Brandon Jenkins had a screw removed from his leg on Monday. He's probably out another 4-6 weeks.

Derrick Caracter, who didn't go on Louisville's trip to Canada as the school checked into his amateur status, is getting down to 285 pounds (he arrived at 318). The goal is to see him shed 10 more pounds and get his body fat down to 10 percent.

MarquetteMarquette: Freshman forward Lazar Hayward isn't scheduled to practice next week while his eligibility case is being reviewed. This is a fluid situation and still could change by Oct. 13.

MarylandMaryland: Freshman Jerome Burney is out for 4-6 six weeks with a fracture in his left foot. Burney is expected to be part of the rotation but isn't critical to the Terps at the outset of the season with the core of the team returning.

NebraskaNebraska: Jamel White is out with a fractured collarbone. He's doing conditioning on a stationary bike. He's expected to miss a few weeks of practice.

Ohio StateOhio State: The most anticipated injury update comes from Columbus. Oden, who could have more impact than any other incoming freshman, is still out with a right wrist ligament injury. During skill work, his left hand has improved, as assistant Alan Major worked with him on a left-handed hook, according to assistant John Groce. Oden's doing some passing and ballhandling with his left hand, too. Oden also has been doing skill work with his right hand, to some extent, as well as some five-on-zero work. He also continues to do his conditioning.

Oklahoma StateOklahoma State: As of this week, there was still no change in the suspension of freshman forward Gary Flowers for a violation of team policy.

PurduePurdue: This is being billed as the best preseason in years in West Lafayette, Ind. It helps that Carl Landry and David Teague are both healthy after sitting out last season with knee ailments.

SDSUSan Diego State: Signee Kashif Watson didn't make it academically and Tim McGrath left the program, but those absences shouldn't be a distraction. Meanwhile, Mohamed Abukar had surgery over the summer for shin splints and is expected to be practicing next week in some capacity.

South CarolinaSouth Carolina: Chad Gray, who wasn't admitted by the university after he went to multiple high schools, enrolled in a local community college, taking fewer than 12 course hours. If he earns a C average, he'll be back with the squad in mid-December.

Gray was expected to help offset the early departure of Renaldo Balkman. Instead, the Gamecocks will be a bit thinner and need even more minutes out of freshman Dominque Archie.

It's too early to even tell whether Gray can help this season, since he won't be able to practice with the team until he becomes a student in December. South Carolina coach Dave Odom likely will go with Archie in the starting lineup next to more experienced guard Tre Kelly, forward Brandon Wallace and, it appears, junior wing Dwayne Day. A fifth starter still is to be determined.

StanfordStanford: Impact freshman center Brook Lopez won't start practice on time after having back surgery two weeks ago, but coach Trent Johnson is hopeful he'll be back soon given Lopez' high pain threshold and hunger to be on the court.

TexasTexas: Sophomore guard A.J. Abrams broke his foot over the summer but he's expected back in practice next week. How much he will be doing still is to be determined.

UCLAUCLA: Josh Shipp, who missed most of last season with a hip injury, is ready to practice. Arron Afflalo (ankle) no longer is limited in workouts.

VillanovaVillanova: Senior Curtis Sumpter, out last season with an ACL injury, is scheduled to be practicing without limitations.


WashingtonWashington: Center Joe Wolfinger is out with a stress fracture in his foot. Hans Gasser is out with a shoulder injury. Guard Joel Smith has a stress fracture in his right foot. A return date for any of the three is unclear at this point.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com