Gatens Frustrated

Matt Gatens returned to the court a few weeks ago, but it wasn't at 100 percent health. The Iowa guard still is recovering from preseason hand surgery, which has been frustrating at times.

IOWA CITY, Ia. - Matt Gatens can't stop fiddling with the protective device on his surgically repaired hand. It's uncomfortable. It's unnatural. It's annoying.

At Thursday's Iowa press conference, the guard admitted that recovery has been disappointing at times. "It's frustrating to not be able to play how you want to play," Gatens said. "When you're playing against such high-quality opponents, you can't have anything but your best game out there. There's not that much pain. It's having to wear something on it. But when I bump it or catch it the wrong way, I feel a sharp pain, but I'm not using it as an excuse. It's day by day and you deal with it."

The Iowa City native and leading returning scorer tore a tendon in his left, non-shooting hand in late October. He returned to action with November 20th against Xavier in the Virgin Islands. He hasn't looked anything like the player that averaged 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a sophomore last season.

Gatens said the injury, while allowing him to play, does limit him in a few important areas on the court.

"Shooting, passing, dribbling, you know, things I do with my hand," Gatens said with a smile as he realized all the things it limits. "The biggest thing is shooting, but I can still move my feet and play tough defense. When I do get the open looks, they want me to shoot it. I can still shoot it a little bit, but definitely not the way I'd like to, and that's kind of frustrating."

Even though his strong hand his fine, a shooter uses his off hand to get into a shooting motion and into position to release the ball. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery says a few other areas of Gatens' game are being affected by the injured appendage.

"He's just not as comfortable as he was," McCaffery said. "You look at his rebound numbers, his steal numbers; I don't think he's going to lead the league or anything, but they'd be better. He can't stick his left-hand in there and knock the ball away. He's a little reluctant to go get a two-hand traffic rebound."

Gatens shot 37.0 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent on threes in 2009-10. Through five games this season, he's shooting 28.2 percent from the floor, including 21.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

Gatens said when he's on the court, he doesn't feel tentative with his play. When he sees himself of film, however, he notices some apprehension in his play.

"The coaches and the other players see it and feel like I'm not really playing my normal game," he said. "It's tough to feel when you're out there, but I definitely feel like I'm not in my natural rhythm. I'm kind of worried about bumping (his hand), but it's something I have to keep working through. Hopefully as time goes on here, it will be fully healed shortly."

Eric May, who is leading the team in scoring this season, can tell his teammate is frustrated.

"He missed the first couple of weeks and those are big weeks for conditioning and stuff," May said. "I'm not worried about him. He's a great player. He's just getting back into a flow. It's going to come."

McCaffery showed confidence in Gatens down the stretch of Tuesday's 76-73 loss at Wake Forest. The coach went to him in the final two possessions of the game. A 3-point attempt rimmed out and a lay-up was blocked.

"He worked extremely hard in the spring and in the summer and the fall," the coach said. "For the first three and a half weeks of practice he was as dominant a player as I've ever coached.

"So, now he's out for a month. He's got this big thing on his hand. I think he's performed pretty well. I've been pleased with him. You look at the shooting percentage, that's not him. Those numbers will improve."

Gatens is scheduled to see his doctor on Friday in hopes of having the plastic stabilizer removed from his hand and proceed with only having it wrapped in tape during games.

"It's frustrating to know that I was playing at a high level and then have something unfortunate like this happen, but you just have to look at the bright side. It could have been something way worse, like a season-ending thing," Gatens said. "It's something that I can still play through and fight through. Hopefully, it will be back shortly and I can move forward with playing my normal game."

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