There's apparently still a crack in his right foot, the result of an injury that caused Washington center Joe Wolfinger to miss last season...
There’s apparently still a crack in his right foot, the result of an injury that caused Washington center Joe Wolfinger to miss last season.
Wolfinger wondered at times if that break in his navicular bone might mean the end of his career.
“That’s something that’s in the back of your head, that I might not ever play again,” the 7-footer said.
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But twice when he was on the verge of surgery — an option he wanted to avoid — the foot suddenly began feeling better.
Last week, he was able to play full-court games for the first time since last September and woke up the next day feeling just fine.
“There’s no pain in that area at all,” he said.
And today he takes another step on his road to recovery, set to participate in practice with the Huskies as they begin preparations for an offseason trip to Greece for exhibition games.
The Huskies are allowed 10 days of practice before heading overseas, a trip that college teams can take once every four years per NCAA rules.
Only the team’s nine returning veterans are eligible to make the trip, and of those players Wolfinger may elicit the most curiosity.
“Sure,” said UW assistant coach Jim Shaw. “Because he hasn’t played in two years.”
Wolfinger was the last player to commit as part of UW’s seven-man 2005 recruiting class that was hailed as one of the best in the country.
But he’s played in just one game for the Huskies, in 2005, shooting 0 for 1 with two rebounds in 10 minutes of an exhibition contest against Simon Fraser.
He redshirted that season with UW deep in the frontcourt, hoping to use the year to get bigger and stronger.
But the player who enticed UW coaches in part because of his work ethic might have worked a little too hard.
Last fall he began to feel pain in the right foot, which eventually was diagnosed as a break in the navicular bone.
“I think it was overuse,” Wolfinger said, adding that he jumped rope and dunked a 15-pound medicine ball 30-40 times every day along with regular basketball activity.
He thought about having surgery last fall but was also advised that the injury might heal on its own and wanted to try that, especially when the foot began to feel better. In February, when recovery seemed to be slowing, surgery was again scheduled. Again, the foot began to suddenly feel better and he decided against it.
Unable to work out in his usual manner, however, he put on weight, jumping up to 285 pounds from the 240 pounds he weighed as a college freshman.
One night, he turned to the Internet for solace, searching for every player who had ever had the same injury and had made it back.
Among those who have are Michael Jordan (in his second season with the Bulls), Zydrunas Ilgauskas and former Stanford star and Eastlake High grad Curtis Borchardt.
Ilgauskas, a center for the Cavs, proved to be a particular inspiration. He missed 287 games over a six-year span because of foot troubles but has come back to be a full-time player.
Wolfinger even talked to the doctors who performed the surgery on Ilgauskas for advice.
“He’s 7-3 and he’s pretty old (32) and he’s still playing,” Wolfinger said. “He’s one of my favorite players now.”
The pain has gradually begun to disappear since last winter, even as Wolfinger has begun to ramp up his workouts. He’s down to 260 pounds, which he said would be an ideal playing weight.
“I feel stronger than I’ve ever been,” he said.
Still, while the foot feels better, the injury hasn’t completely healed. Wolfinger said the last MRI on his foot showed the crack was still there.
UW coach Lorenzo Romar has said the Greece trip is “crucial” to get a gauge where Wolfinger is in his recovery.
The hope is he could at least play about 15 minutes a game this season to add depth to a frontcourt that will need some after the loss of Spencer Hawes to the NBA.
Wolfinger’s goal is simply to get back on the floor, which for now is more than good enough.
“I’m not expecting much,” he said. “The regular season is the real test. This is just kind of like regaining my bearings a little bit and getting out there and going up and down the floor.”