Forward Kennedy Winston underwent knee surgery before the season, and his daily struggle to play has inspired his team.
Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried commented, "It's hard to juggle your lineup sometimes. Injuries are part of the game. Every coach can tell a story about how his team has been hurt. Injuries are part of the game."
Once the season is finished and he can stay off the joint for several weeks straight, Kennedy will be fine. But in the meantime he has to walk a fine line between playing enough to stay in shape and playing too much and aggravating the sore knee.
"Neither Kennedy nor Earnest have really practiced with us for about a week and a half," Gottfried related Monday. "It's difficult to do. Kennedy is limited with how many days a week he can go without aggravating (the injury) and having his knee swell up."
Exertion aggravates the repaired joint, leading to swelling. On numerous occasions the Tide doctors have drained fluid from the joint, sometimes just hours before a game.
"He's done a great job now," Gottfried said. "Kennedy has played when he's hurt. He's played while he's hurting. He's played through it."
Winston's 17.9 points per game lead the Tide squad. Remarkably, he's 50-of-98 on field goal attempts, and his .440 percentage from behind the three-point arc leads the squad as well. The sophomore forward is also the second-leading rebounder on the team.
"I think Kennedy is playing as well as he can," Gottfried said. "His numbers are good. If you look at his percentages, he's shooting well from the field and rebounding. He's done a great job, and I've been proud of him."
With the coaches doing everything they can to protect Winston's knee and keep him available for games, practice work has suffered.
"It's hard for him," Gottfried acknowledged. "He wants to practice every day. He wants to get into the flow. What's going to happen to him eventually is his conditioning will be affected. He only cranks it up twice a week, so it's difficult for him. Nobody wants to be unhealthy.
"When you don't practice you just can't do what you want. It makes it hard."
When an athlete injures his arm or rib cage, hours of work on the exercise bicycle can keep him in shape. To a lesser degree, the same is true of ankle injuries. But the knee joint is different.
Gottfried explained, "There's not a lot you can do with his conditioning, since it's his knee. You can ride the exercise bike a little bit, but you can't pound on it.
"If we put him out at practice and he went from start to finish for the full two hours, he'd walk in on game day and be done."
In only his second year of college basketball, Winston obviously still has room to develop. But no one can question his desire to win.
Gottfried commented, "I've said before that what I liked about Kennedy was as a junior in high school he took his team to the state championship and lost. Then as a senior he took his team back and won. He's a winner. When your best player is taking his team to championships, that's something I really respect."
There's an old saying in athletics, that goes something to the effect that "there is a difference between being hurt and injured." College athletes especially know that their chances to compete are limited. And so long as there is no danger of making the injury worse, pain can be ignored.
Gottfried appreciates Winston's grit.
"I wasn't surprised," Gottfried noted. "I knew he was a tough guy. He wants to win. He's trying to find ways to help us win. He's just got to fight through it."