Sophomore point guard Chris Hernandez already tried to recover once this year from a broken foot, and that went about as badly as possible. In just his second game back in action, Hernandez fractured that same bone in the same foot, though freakishly in a different place. So it has been with the utmost caution and prudence that the Clovis (CA) point guard has been brought along in this second recovery. Though he removed his protective boot during the season and felt stable enough to start jogging on the sidelines during practices, the medical and coaching staffs at Stanford would not allow Hernandez to rejoin the action in practices until after the season concluded.
Practices during the spring quarter are very different, though, from what we all know to be the sessions conducted from October through March. NCAA rules allow in that part of the off-season for no more than four roster players to participate in any coaching with a member of the staff, with a basketball present, at one time. This precludes programs from conducting scrimmage conditions, which turns out to be a timely benefit for Hernandez. The doctors still have yet to clear him for any one-on-one action in a practice or pick-up setting with a basketball. But the sophomore floor general did receive some very big news Friday from the Stanford medical staff.
A screw that had been placed in his foot was the subject of some discussion this winter, as to whether it would do the job. Or would surgery be needed anew to reposition a new screw? Stanford team doctor Colin Eakin and orthopedic surgeon Michael Dillingham came to the opinion previously that the screw was fine, but two additional outside second opinions were sought out for this critical question. The key piece of evidence being examined was the 16-week x-ray of Hernandez' foot, taken a few weeks ago. The final word from all four of the doctors was handed down Friday, and it was good news: Chris Hernandez is cleared to go forward.
The Stanford coaches were ecstatic about the news, for they had feared that their starting point guard may have to start back at square one with new surgery. Hernandez was equally excited, if not more so. "I want the right news and the right decision, but I really didn't want to have to start over with surgery again," he opened up to The Bootleg. "It feels so good being with the team again, and it would have been really tough to back away from that. I mean, I was with the team before, but it's a whole different world when you get to do what they're doing. I am spending a lot more time with the guys now that I'm back with them."
One more hurdle remains, though, before Hernandez will be cleared for full one-on-one basketball action. He is running on a treadmill for the doctors and trainers to simulate the stresses his foot has to endure in such sustained on-court action, and how his foot responds to that running is the last litmus test. He has been told that he needs to run 30 straight minutes, at a variety of paces and settings on the treadmill, without any pain in that left foot. "We need to see how I react to a constant pounding," he says. He has been running the treadmill at lower lengths of time to build up to that big test and will step up to a 27 minute run early this week. He is scheduled for the key 30 minute workout for Thursday.
The team currently holds unofficial scrimmages four days a week at 3 pm at Maples Pavilion, just as they have done in years past. Hernandez currently remains on the sideline, dribbling or shooting jumpers at another basket. But he's itching to get back into the fray to assert himself. "I have to get immersed and regain that leadership back," he explains. "I think a lot of the guys are confident in my abilities, but they want to see me produce again. I'm up to that challenge." If and when he passes the Thursday running test, he will be allowed to join his teammates for their pick-up games. Hernandez is telling everyone that he expects to be on the court come Friday.
At this time, he is fully participating in the official team workouts, where he is joined by Matt Lottich, Jason Haas and Carlton Weatherby in the "guards" grouping. Teammates and coaches alike note that he's busting his butt out there and doesn't show any tentativeness right now. Hernandez says that his cuts are fine on the floor, and I witnessed one workout to verify that for myself. But his leg strength is poor right now after his extended time away from a variety of activity. "I can't push off the floor like I want to right now." he admits. "My overall leg strength is way behind, and that limits my explosiveness. I can push off on my right foot OK, but my left foot isn't there yet. [Stanford team trainer] JoHan [Wang] has told me that it will take two months of full workouts before I feel good again, so I know that won't come for me until sometime in the summer - June or July."
Hernandez adds that his limitations today are physical and not psychological. "During my very first workouts late in the season, when I would shoot baskets or do little things with JoHan on the sidelines at practices, I was tentative. But I haven't had any problems in my head after those initial workouts. My foot feels solid and I'm past that."
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