Waiting Is The Hardest Part For Buckeyes

Ohio State suffered a serious blow when junior point guard Evan Turner was lost for eight weeks after suffering a back injury against Eastern Michigan. Now a few days removed from the injury, head coach Thad Matta gives the latest on Turner's future within the program and his recovery.

Thad Matta knows that coping with the loss of Evan Turner is going to be hard on his Ohio State team. He knows it will be hard to replace an athlete who averaged a double-double in the first eight games of the season

But the hardest part for the head coach is what he does not know about the situation.

Turner, the team's leader in points, rebounds and assists, suffered two broken vertebrae in his back suffered during a fall on a missed dunk attempt Dec. 5 against Eastern Michigan. According to the team's athletic trainer, the junior should be out of commission for eight weeks.

As of right now, however, that remains a guess.

"In regards to Evan, it's still so early to tell anything," the coach said. "We absolutely know nothing. We had another doctor look at the stuff and they were right on in their assessment. Just a matter of time."

That matter of time includes both time to heal and time to try and get back into playing shape. Although he is not restricted in his daily life and can walk around under his own power, Turner's rehab right now consists solely of walking in a pool at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

The team's medical staff will continue to X-ray him on a frequent basis, Matta said, but they are looking for more than just healing from the broken vertebrae.

"It's hard to explain, but where the muscles connect to the vertebrae, there's a process of where those have to get back and heal," the coach said. "You don't know when it's going to be. As far as X-rays, we're going to do them, but they're more concerned with the muscles and the pulling on the vertebrae."

A recovery time of eight weeks would put Turner back on the court in time for the team's Jan. 31 home contest against Minnesota. That would mean Turner would miss 13 games, eight of which are Big Ten contests.

Matta said that Turner has a return date in mind, however, and hinted that it is earlier than that.

"I know where Evan's target date is that he swears that he will be back playing," the coach said. "Being with him (Wednesday), he was like, ‘I will be ready to go for this game right here.' "

That game is not tomorrow's road contest with No. 22 Butler (noon, ESPN). Senior guard P.J. Hill, who figures to take over the starting role in Turner's absence, also said the junior's targeted return date is sooner than most are expecting. Last year, the Buckeyes played the final 26 games of the season without swingman David Lighty after he suffered a broken foot in the seventh game of the year.

Hill said the team will have to again prove that it can play without a key contributor.

"Last year when Dave got hurt, people just threw the season away," he said. "Us having been through it before, we've got to prove we won't let that happen even if he's going to be gone for a short amount of time, six weeks, four weeks.

"This six weeks, four weeks that he's gone, we've got to prove to everybody that we can do it without Evan and then when he comes back we're going to be even that much stronger. It starts with Butler right here."

Pegged as a potential NBA lottery pick after the season, the injury has cast doubt on whether Turner will ever return to play for the Buckeyes – this year or next. Matta said he had not heard any conversation about Turner's college career being over.

After leading the Big Ten in scoring (17.3 points per game) and averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest as a sophomore, Turner was viewed as a player with the option of ending his college career right then and heading to the pros. Instead, he turned down the allure of the NBA and came back for at least one more year of college.

In the process, he spoke of how he wanted to known as more than just a player who spent a few years in college and jumped to the NBA without accomplishing something big for the Buckeyes – a Big Ten title, a deep NCAA Tournament run, even a shot at a national title.

"Evan is one of the most unique kids that you'll ever meet," the coach said. "He's one of the greatest kids I've ever seen. He has a passion for this university. I can still remember last year when all the stuff was going about whether he was going or staying and we were driving through campus and he said, ‘Coach, I love Ohio State. I love being here.'

"I don't know what the future is going to hold, but that young man has given this university a lot. His thing is he feels awful for these guys. He wants to be with this team."

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