Konate’s Knee Injury Should Be Taken Seriously
MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Something of a Category 1 hurricane is beginning to brew over a comment Bob Huggins made following Sunday’s shabby performance in a loss to Rhode Island in Connecticut.
Huggins’ star player, Sagaba Konate, coming off his best performance of the season against Pitt eight days earlier when he scored 16 points, had nine rebounds and seven blocked shots, scratched himself due to lingering problems with his surgically repaired knee.
“It’s up to him and his brother when he plays and when he doesn’t play,” Huggins said after the game.
While Huggins didn’t question Konate’s claim of discomfort, he did indicate on his pregame show that he was somewhat mystified by it all. Play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi asked him if he would say he was bewildered by what was going on, and Huggins answered after giving it some deep thought, “That’s fair to say.”
Huggins added shortly later that “I think they want another MRI, which will be the fourth one.”
Knowing Huggins and the era he comes from, it is easy to understand why he is mystified by the situation, for in his day the rule of thumb was if you can walk, you can play… but times have changed, values have changed and it’s a different world.
We are in a world where there is so much money at stake that players are protected on all sides and where coaches’ hands are tied by regulations that have made it impossible for a player to be the macho man we all so admired a couple of decades or more back.
I grew up in such an era which was dominated by the likes of Sam Huff or Dick Butkus or Alex Karras and was as caught up in that era as much as the next guy.
If you’ll excuse a couple of personal anecdotes to explain, we go back to my sophomore year in high school when I was a backup player of no particular value to the football team that season. In the midst of one practice I found myself on the ground — in truth, in the midst of every practice I found myself on the ground — as a size 18, or so it seemed, cleated football shoe crashed into my jaw.
My four lower middle teeth were knocked from being neatly in row to going in every direction but the right one.
The remedy? They gave me rubber mouthpiece and when I inserted it and bit down the teeth, with one sharp pain, snapped back in place. The pain did not subside but there I was back in practice.
Two days later, as the pain continued, we went to the dentist and got x-rays which showed that my jaw had been broken, the teeth needing to be removed.
The rest of the year I played with a full plastic mask over my face, but never missed a practice or game.
Second story, baseball game, a pitch came in on me and as I pulled back, the pitch hit me on my right thumb and bent the thumbnail back. It was throbbing badly, blood was coming out but we put a band-aid on it and I took first base andfinished the game.
The doctor tried to save the thumbnail, but when it wouldn’t take hold after a couple of days, he informed me it would have to be removed and by that, he meant, pliers and yank it out.
Women tell me there is no pain like giving birth and I am smart enough not to argue with them, but all I can say is I found out what comes in second… and who knew your thumb nail went all the way up to your elbow?
Again, I kept playing because that’s what you did. No, I couldn’t throw because of it so I moved from catcher to first base for a couple of games.
That was the mentality then… yet my job as a sportswriter has taught me that coaches ought to listen closely when players claim injury and, yes, we have two more sad tales to illustrate this.
Gary Nolan was a right-handed pitcher who came up to the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1960s and looked as if he were Hall of Fame bound. His first season, at 19 years old, he went 14-8 with a 2.58 ERA and 206 strikeouts, including one 15-strikeout game against San Francisco in which he struck out Hall of Famer Willie Mays four times and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey three times.
He was that good, but the next year he injured his arm, but kept pitching and pitching well; good enough that no one believed his arm was injured. They x-rayed it, rubbed it, rested it. They pulled a tooth thinking that might be the problem, but Nolan continued to pitch.
Finally, at age 25, Dr. Frank Jobe performed surgery on the shoulder no one believed was injured and found a sharp bone spur in there that gouged out the muscle. The pain had to be unbearable but Nolan went on, developed the game’s best change up, went 15-9 each of the next two years after the surgery that cost him two seasons and finished his career with 110-70 record.
Next the Reds brought up a pitcher named Wayne Simpson in 1970, a big, hard-throwing, effectively wild right-hander. He debuted against the Dodgers in LA with a two-hit shutout in which he faced only 29 batters while beating Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton.
He went into the All-Star break as a rookie with a 13-1 record but injured his shoulder.
He tried to keep pitching but couldn’t. Again the Reds questioned his courage.
One day year later, sitting in the clubhouse in early afternoon, he sat at his locker with me and cried, saying “My arm is killing me and they say nothing is wrong with it. I can’t throw a baseball all the way across the room and they don’t believe me.”
A few weeks later they believed him when the shoulder hemorrhaged.
His whole career was over in five years and much later in life he nearly lost the arm due to circulation problems.
The moral? Maybe it’s simply not to be too hard on Konate, for if a player says he’s hurting, he’s really the only one who knows.