Jarryd Cole showed up at practice Monday laughing with his teammates. He looked nothing like a guy disappointed by the recovery process related to a major knee injury.
Cole is living one of the most popular clichés in the sports world – taking things day to day.
"I really didn't have any expectations coming in," Iowa's sophomore said on Monday. "All I wanted to do was get better every day. Going through an injury like this is real devastating. Any kind of progress would work for me.
"I'm really surprised I'm back to where I am right now. I never thought back last January that this is where I would be. I'm pretty grateful for that."
A lot of fans have wondered this season why Cole was averaging 7.3 minutes a game on a team that is thin in the post. This guy was posting 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds through 13 games last season before it all ended with the knee injury.
It seemed like Cole would bounce back to his old self after working hard to return to the court for the start of this season. But really, when you consider what he did to his knee, he's probably ahead of schedule.
"It wasn't just the ACL," Cole said. "It was the meniscus, both lateral (collateral ligament) and medial (collateral ligament). There was a partial tear in the MCL. Progress wise I think I'm doing pretty well for what happened."
Cole has averaged just 0.6 points 0.9 rebounds this season. He's played 10 or more minutes just twice in a game and played five or less four times.
"It's really tough," the 6-foot-7 Kansas City native said of being patient. "But it's what's going to have to happen. Everything seems to be working fine right now. We're winning games and we're playing well together. So, there's not much more you can ask for."
Cole, a captain, is the consummate team player and is focused most on Iowa's 7-2 start. The Hawkeyes play host to in-state rival Northern Iowa Tuesday.
Still, the unknown recovery tests Cole's resolve.
"Things aren't ideal right now, but all I can do is keep working," he said. "I'll get there eventually. It's not going nearly fast enough, but you can't rush things like this. I'm just taking it a day at a time, one week at a time. Whatever results come that's just what's going to happen."
Cole said that three things are factoring into his return as the player he was before the injury.
"I wouldn't pinpoint just one particular thing," he said. "There's just so much that goes into it, like mental wise, physically. There are just so many other things. Soon I will get my confidence back, my mentality will be right and I will have the physical ability to go with it. So, whenever all three are working together then that's where I'll be back to where I was."
Physically, Cole has been cleared by doctors to perform all the tasks asked of him on the basketball court.
"I really don't have any limits," he said. "But after strenuous workouts, my knee does feel kind of sore, but you can expect that considering I blew everything out that I could possibly blow out in my knee."
Cole said that he doesn't know day to day how his knee will react to playing. Each game he just sees what it can handle. He pushed forward in hopes of getting his mind, body and confidence back to where they need to be for him to be successful.
"I'm going to work towards it," Cole said. "I can't really say what will or won't happen. If it does, then I'll get that opportunity to show that I can. But until then, I'm not really worried about it. I just want to be here for my team and do whatever I can to contribute."
Cole said that he never considered taking a redshirt this season.
"If coach would have come to me at the beginning of the season and told me that my playing time would have been limited, then I would have considered redshirting if that's what he wanted to talk about," Cole said. "It wasn't brought up. I wasn't going to bring it up. The system is working the way that he wants it to work and that's fine with me."
Cole said he still sees value in playing this season even though his minutes are limited and he's not sure when things will change, if at all.
"It's still just taking the role of being a good teammate, just staying positive and pushing everyone else to work hard," Cole said. "That's all they can ask for. That's all I can ask for."
Cole and co-captain Cyrus Tate had their leadership skills tested over the weekend when teammate Anthony Tucker was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Coach Todd Lickliter said that it was alcohol related.
"I'll just be there for him," Cole said of his role. "It's going to be real hard on him, really mentally. There are going to be those people that are going to be there for him and there are going to be those people that want to bring him down.
"He needs to know that regardless he needs to keep his head and go through this like everyday life. There are going to be rough times. There are going to be days when he needs somebody to talk to or get away. I just want to let him know that we're there for him. If he needs anything, he can ask us."