It was the long-awaited return for Stanford Men's Basketball to Maples Pavilion. After more than nine months of exile while $30 million of renovations were done to the home of Cardinal hoops, the team had their first practice in their old-turned-new digs Monday. It was also to be a very special day for junior point guard Carlton Weatherby, who has worked tirelessly and selflessly in a primarily practice role the last three years as a walk-on student-athlete. The Cardinal coaching staff had big news for him they were ready to deliver at the end of practice, but first Weatherby caught a bad break.
"We were working on a scout of Michigan State and I was helping run the press," the six-foot junior relates. "I didn't do anything abnormal. I took a jump shot and I landed on myself, off-balance. I heard it pop right away."
Weatherby had broken the fifth-metatarsal bone in his left foot. That is the very same bone he broke last spring, keeping him off the court for much of the off-season.
"X-rays showed it was healed," Weatherby tells us. "It was healed, but maybe the fact that I didn't get surgery meant it was as strong as it could be. I rested as much as I could."
The injury is a black mark on the return to Maples Pavilion, and it is with much irony that Stanford Basketball has suffered yet another foot injury on its floor. Sensationalist reports in the media postulated that the unique bouncy floor that previously served in the on-campus arena were to blame for a series of foot injuries, but Monday served as a reminder that bad breaks can come on any surface. The newly renovated Maples has a more conventional and standard rigid floor, which regrettably will not have the cushion that has helped with knee and back problems in the past. But the new hard Maples floor looks like little safeguard against foot injuries, as we learned less than one practice into its service.
Irony was also dripping Monday from the timing of the injury. Trent Johnson had made the decision to put Weatherby on scholarship (effective winter quarter), and he decided he would break the news to the hard-working walk-on after practice. By that time, Weatherby was in the depths of despair with his broken foot. He could not have imagined he could have had his spirits lifted so quickly and so dramatically.
"It was a total shock for me. It was unexpected for sure," Weatherby offers. "That's why I'm smiling today. The good outweighs the bad."
"Coach Johnson said I had worked hard," he continues. "I've been here three years and put in the time. He sees my improvements and says I'm important to the team with my contributions. He just wanted me to feel I earned it and deserved it."
Weatherby has yet to get into a game this season, and even if he had played, this injury comes so early that he could be granted a medical redshirt year. The junior guard was scheduled to have surgery today to repair the broken bone, and he is told he will be out six to eight weeks.
"But to make sure, because of the rebreak, we may need to wait at least eight weeks," he adds.
Eight weeks from today is February 4. A conservative timeline might then have him back in shape by the USC and UCLA home games, but they come with just three weeks left in the season. Weatherby says it is far too early to think about whether he would take the redshirt or not, but it would carry one great silver lining for both him and for the team. If he were to go that route, he could be eligible for a fifth-year in 2006-07. Weatherby currently is in the same class as Chris Hernandez and Jason Haas, which leaves him precious little playing time at the point guard position, but they both should graduate the spring of '06. After that pair has moved on, the team would be run by Mitchell Johnson, who is currently starting his senior year of high school in Seattle, Wash. Johnson may also have a hard time getting much training on the floor next year (2005-06), and that could leave the Cardinal with frightful little experience at point guard when he would be a sophomore. If Weatherby were there as a fifth-year senior, he could have an opportunity for his greatest playing time, while also stabilizing the team at the point.
But we get ahead of ourselves. We will see how quickly or slowly Weatherby comes back from this surgery, and the cost-benefit analysis of his playing this year. Another part of the equation is the scholarship situation in the fall of 2006. The coaching staff are currently operating as if they have six to give to the high school juniors they are recruiting with gusto all over the country. While it may seem foolhardy to imagine that they could fill a class that size, given their difficulties in filling smaller classes the last few years, it is something to consider.
Returning to the present, Carlton Weatherby was enjoying what he felt was his best year of basketball yet, and he is hungry to get back on the court.
"Everything was great. I've definitely been playing the best I've ever played. That [Monday] practice was one of the best I've ever had," he emotes. "I have been so much more confident and having so much fun. Every year I've gained confidence, going up against Chris and Jason - and before that Julius [Barnes]. The curve is there for me to get better. I felt it was all coming back."
Weatherby long ago earned the respect of his teammates with his work ethic and his attitude, as well as his hard-nosed play in practices. He now holds his head even higher as he celebrates his Stanford scholarship. But he says he won't change his approach on and off the court with that prize in his pocket.
"I just want to keep doing what I've been doing. It's worked so far and I don't want to change that."
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