Illini guard Kendrick Nunn suffers thumb injury

Kendrick Nunn suffers thumb injury during practice; saw hand specialist Thursday to discover severity

CHICAGO - Illinois coach John Groce joked in his opening statement at Big Ten Media Day that he was careful not to injure himself getting out of his hotel bed on Thursday morning.

It's been that kind of offseason -- an unfortunate rash of injuries that continued this week.

Kendrick Nunn was scheduled to represent Illinois at the media festivities near O'Hare International Airport, but the Illini junior guard suffered a left thumb injury playing defense in practice on Tuesday and stayed on campus for an appointment with a hand specialist.

Illinois coach John Groce, who called the injury a "freakish accident," said Thursday that he did not yet know the severity of the injury to Nunn, a left-handed shooter who averaged 11.1 points per game as a sophomore.

"I'll know more I'm hoping sometime today," Groce said. "I don't have an x-ray at this point, an MRI. He hasn't met with the hand specialist. We don't have anything at this point. Those appointments were this morning. Once those appointments happen, we'll know a lot more.

"I don't anticipate on it being bad. I don't think that way. I hope it's not."

The Illini have been ravaged by injuries this offseason.

Senior point guard and team captain Tracy Abrams will miss the season after suffering a torn Achilles during the offseason. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered during preseason workouts.

Freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, a top-50 recruit expected to make an immediate impact, missed most of the season with a stress fracture in his lower left leg and has just recently returned to basketball activities. Groce said Coleman-Lands "will be back here soon."

Junior forward Leron Black, a projected starter and top contributor, will be out about a month with a torn meniscus in his knee. Groce said Thursday that Black had successful surgery last week and showed evidence that Black suffered the injury "a long time ago."

"Doc asked me, 'What's this kid's pain threshold like?'" Groce said. "I said, 'Very high.' Leron's a very, very tough kid and played on it for a long period of time. We're actually bleseed that thee knee swelled over one weekend. We decided to get in x-rayed and it led to an MRI and found out that he had a torn meniscus and repaired it. The surgery went great. He's already off crutches. He's already doing some type of cardiovascular exercise and doing some rehabilitation exercises with the knee as well. That's very encouraging. We hope to get him back soon."

The Illini season opener is Nov. 13 against North Florida at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. The team's lone exhibition game is Nov. 8 against UI-Springfield at PCCC.

It's not clear who will be available for the Illini.

"It just is what it is," Groce said. "We talk about the next-man-up philosophy a lot. We did that a lot last year, because we have guys that went through a lot last year.

"We're going to get these guys back. The hardest part I found out last year is when guys are coming in and out and your team's changing over the course of a season, what I worry about more as a coach is the growth of our team and the ability to continue to improve and get better. You just don't snap your fingers and a guy like Coleman-Land, who will be back here soon as well. He didn't participate in training camp. He didn't participate in fall training camp. Are we glad to have him back? Absolutely? Is he a very good player? No question. He's an even better person. But it's going to take a little bit of time.

"Those are the things that are on my mind. How do I accelerate our team's growth and development and give them some type of continuity and stability with what we're learning, to make sure that we're getting better through the challenge of multiple injuries."

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