January 31, 2007

Sidelined Players Still Contribute

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When game day rolls around for the men’s basketball team, two very different teams step onto the court. For 14 players, dressed in red and white uniforms, a week of preparation pays off with 40 minutes of a full-fledged physical battle to get one step closer to an Ivy League championship. But for five members of the Red — three injured players and two transfers — game day means dressing up in collared shirts and ties and sitting at the end of the bench.

“Most of the time I’m sitting down there with white knuckles because I want to get in on the action,” said sophomore Collin Robinson, a transfer from USC who is sitting out the 2006-07 season due to NCAA regulations. “It is pretty hard, [but] on the plus side, we get to look pretty fresh in our suits.”

Robinson has had plenty of company this season, as junior Khaliq Gant and senior Jason Hartford have both missed the entire season while recovering from injuries. Sophomore Adam Gore joined the trio after suffering an ACL injury in the first game of the season. The most recent addition is sophomore Jeff Foote, a 7-0 center who transferred from St. Bonaventure in January.

While these five players aren’t responsible for diving after loose balls or tearing down rebounds, they still play integral roles for the Red.
[img_assist|nid=21021|title=men’s basketball|desc=Is it the shoes? Although sophomore transfer Collin Robinson (left) cannot play this season, he still plays a key role in practice with the Red.|link=none|align=left|width=80|height=100]
“We actually address [the situation with] those guys, that it’s important that they don’t relax,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “Part of the preparation for playing … is just being mentally ready to just come in and treat this like you’re sitting there in uniform ready to go.”

For Robinson and Foote, that mental component is complimented by helping their teammates prepare during the week’s practices. Robinson has played the role of Dartmouth senior Leon Pattman this week, while Foote and assistant coach Mark Vershaw helped the Red prepare to face juniors Ben Nwachuku and John Baumann of Columbia to get a sense of how to double-team the Lions on defense.

“It’s been great for practice,” Donahue said. “[Robinson’s] a very explosive player … he can simulate that and we can really do a good job of seeing what that feels like.”

Robinson will become eligible for games next fall, while Foote is expected to be eligible after fall classes finish.

For the trio of Cornell players still nursing various injuries, having to sit out practice and games while watching their teammates play has been another kind of obstacle to overcome on the road to recovery.

“I still get pumped up while we’re warming up,” Hartford said. “I’m still anxious but there’s nothing you can do really but cheer your teammates on.”

Hartford has not been able to run since last February, when he broke the navicular bone in his foot. Navicular bones are only found in the foot and the wrist, and Hartford has broken one in each within the last year. The break in his foot is healing slower than expected and doctors have still not cleared him to run. While Hartford will rejoin the team next year, the coaching staff is unsure how many semesters of eligibility he will have remaining.

For Gore, rehab has been a smooth road so far. He underwent surgery on Dec. 13 to repair a torn ACL and slight meniscus tear in his right knee, and is currently working out on a stationary bike and in the weight room. If everything goes according to plan, Gore expects to be running by early March. Donahue expects him to be fully recovered by fall semester of next year.

“The physical part of it is pretty easy, but it’s kind of hard sitting on the bench during games watching,” Gore said. “It happened two months ago so I’m used to it, but I still wish I was playing.”

The player on injured reserve with the highest profile has perhaps the longest road to recovery. Gant is still working to regain full strength and mobility after dislocating two vertebrate during a practice on Jan. 24, 2006. His rehab at the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, and his return to Cornell were recently featured on the front page of ESPN.com and FoxSports.com. While his story has become national news, Donahue says his daily example at Cornell has helped his teammates deal with their setbacks.

“We’ve got to deal with it and make the best of it and take a positive from it,” Donahue said of the five sidelined players. “Whether we get stronger, or more mature, or understand the game more, all those things, I think Khaliq has shown that example to the maxim.”

Gant’s injury has had a profound effect on his teammates. Foote’s mother was the head nurse on Gant’s case when he was airlifted from Newman Arena to Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira, N.Y. When her son became unhappy at St. Bonaventure, she remembered the way that Gant’s teammates and coaches had come together to support him.

For Gore, Gant provides motivation and sets an example every day.

“I still feel pretty lucky. Mine’s easy to recover from compared to what he had to go through,” Gore said. “You’re down at first because you’re not going to be able to play but then you look at him and it’s hard to be upset.”