Bloomington – Less than two months removed from knee surgery, Derek Elston is back.
On a golf course.
In a golf cart.
Every chance to get up off the couch and leave his crutches behind is a sign of progress for Elston, who underwent successful surgery May 21 to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. So when officials at his hometown Tipton Golf Course told him he could ride around the course in a golf cart and follow his high school friends during rounds of golf, he decided to take them up on the offer.
"I'll go up there and go out in the cart three or four times a week," Elston said. "Sometimes we'll play nine holes, sometimes it's 36. But it's good to get out."
Since injuring his knee at an AAU event in Ft. Wayne May 19, a lot of things have been going right for Elston, who was the first player to commit to the Hoosiers in the 2009 class. The biggest piece of good news came from the doctors shortly after the injury when they said Elston hadn't torn a major knee ligament as originally feared.
Elston said when he crumbled to the floor in Ft. Wayne, he was sure he had torn his ACL. High school teammate Matt Hodges had suffered such an injury earlier and told Elston about hearing a "pop" in his knee when it happened. When Elston went to the ground with his injury, he heard something even worse.
"When I went down I heard mine pop two or three times," Elston said. "So I was sure I had torn it."
But doctors allayed his worst fears, letting him know it was just his meniscus. While that injury would require surgery and would sideline him for several months and require extensive rehab, he'd be able to return in time for his senior season at Tipton H.S. and there were no long-term effects expected from the injury or surgery.
To say the news was a relief to Elston would be a gross understatement. With his father, Darrell, having played at North Carolina and then later in the ABA, he had heard the stories about players suffering major injuries and the dramatic impact that can have on their futures.
Elston had prepared himself for the worst news, but was overwhelmed to find out the injury wasn't as bad as he'd first thought.
"At first, I was having a hard time sleeping at night and thought I would never be the same," Elston said. "When I found out (I hadn't torn a knee ligament) I almost wanted to cry."
Since the surgery, Elston has been abiding by doctors orders in an effort to get back on the court as soon as possible. In addition to working on his upper body on his own, he heads to the hospital three times a week to do closely-monitored weight exercises to strengthen the knee. Currently, he's putting 7 ½ pounds of weight on his foot and doing 30 repetitions from four different angles.
The work has been paying off. Elston said he's gone from needing two crutches to only one, and he expects to be off crutches for good in the next week. From there he'll begin riding a stationary bike, which will be another big step toward his return to the court.
"The doctors say I'm ahead of where I should be," Elston said. "They say I've made fantastic improvement."
While Elston is relieved that the injury wasn't worse and comforted by the fact his rehab is ahead of schedule, he's still anxious to get back on the court. He said he'll be patient to avoid any setbacks, but he's on pace to be back playing by late-November.
"I should be back for our first game," Elston said.
That's great news for Elston and equally exciting news for IU basketball coach Tom Crean as well. Elston said Crean made quick contact with his family after the injury to make sure they knew he was thinking about them and would provide support in any way he could.
"The staff has been great, telling me to keep my head up," Elston said. "He's said he's really excited about me and can't wait for me to play for him. They were things I needed to hear."
By the time Elston arrives at IU in the fall of 2009, he'll be nearly 1 ½ years removed from the knee injury and should have no lingering effects. But before that time comes, he knows he'll have to clear the mental hurdle of going back on the floor and proving to himself that his knee is back to full strength.
"I'd like to say I'll be going at it 100 percent when I first come back, but I know I won't," Elston said. "I know the first time I fall I'll be scared since that's how I did it. But it's something I'll have to go through. They say if you worry about it too much you'll just end up hurting yourself again, so hopefully I can get it out of my mind and just play basketball."
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Elston's Rehab Ahead of Schedule
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