Back to Reality

The entirety of the Stanford Men's Basketball team returned to campus last week, and fall classes start this week. There are a number of stories of hope and wonder with the 2006-07 edition of the Cardinal, including the return of size to the Stanford roster. But before we begin a new year of coverage, there are a pair of post players' off-season injury stories to report.

Do you remember those fun facts from the golden years of Stanford Basketball?  You could count on each press release, television announcer and national news story to count the number of Cardinal players 6'8" or taller.  Though a derisive nickname by some Pac-10 fans, the "Trees" were an apt descriptor for the skyscraping Stanford forwards and centers.

The Cardinal, through a series of admissions-imploded recruiting classes, got away from their bevy of big bodies, but this year's incoming class includes three post players measuring 7'0", 7'0" and 6'9".  Add the Lopez twins and Will Paul to a returning roster than includes 6'10" Peter Prowitt, 6'9" Taj Finger and 6'8" Lawrence Hill, and happy days may soon return for the The Farm.  Rebounding and defense can return to that which defined the glory days, plus the low-post component of the inside-out offensive attack that typified Mike Montgomery teams.

But there is the other side of the coin with big men in basketball.  Those supersized bodies are a breeding ground for injuries of all sorts.  Tim Young was marginalized most of his career after back problems erupted in his second year - ultimately a medical redshirt - and never let go.  Jason Collins played a combined eight games his first two years at Stanford due to a pair of injuries.  Curtis Borchardt only finished one season in three years of college, twice breaking a bone in his foot.  Most recently, Matt Haryasz had an assortment of ankle and foot injuries, and maybe most destructive of all was an eye trauma as a senior.

Stanford is stocked tall and deep with big bodies (albeit young) once again, but the injury news this summer was equally reminiscent of those that Cardinalmaniacs™ have lamented in the past.  The Cardinal had on campus 14 players this summer, which was twice that seen in some recent years.  But you could not quite tell when watching the team play their daily 7 a.m. games from the mid-point of the summer through their departure in mid-August, with two of Stanford's premier big men successively moving to the sideline.

It started with junior center Peter Prowitt, who suffered a stress reaction in the fourth metatarsal bone of his foot.  For those paying attention to the ridiculous cavalcade of injuries suffered this year by the Stanford Football team, that is the same bone reported with a stress reaction for the Cardinal's 6'7" playmaking wide receiver Evan Moore, currently in a boot and on crutches.  While Moore may return soon to the gridiron, Prowitt stopped playing basketball for two months.  Only a little over two weeks ago did he pick up a ball and resume activity.  Tuesday with his teammates during their open gym session was Prowitt's first time playing a game since the early part of the summer.  He looked better than expected for how long he has been off the court.

Though he appears to be healthy now (and health is never assured for a 6'10" 250-pound center), the injury was still a major setback.  Prowitt has yet to find consistency in his game at Stanford, and injuries have set him back several times when he has enjoyed some success.  He enjoyed a surge early in his sophomore season before suffering a spinal bruise that kept him out for weeks and dropped a hammer on his upswing.  Only in March did Prowitt really start to have success again.  Prowitt, his teammates and the coaches were all looking forward to a healthy and productive off-season of development.  He is instead starting the fall behind the curve of conditioning, confidence and skill development.

As one savvy Stanford player remarked to me during the off-season, Peter Prowitt could be the sleeper and a key to the Cardinal's year.  He has size (not just height), experience and smarts.  Those components are all still there for the big man, but now he needs prolonged health and a lot of hard work.

Prowitt's necessity to produce on both offense and defense in the frontcourt is elevated to start the season after back surgery on Friday took 7'0" freshman Brook Lopez out of action for the next month-plus.  We wanted to hold the news until after Lopez made it through the surgery, and we can today happily report that he is already up and walking around.

"As we speak, Brook Lopez is having surgery on a herniated disk," Trent Johnson told The Bootleg.  "He will be out probably three to four weeks.  Knock on wood, best case scenario, he may be ready to go by December after some conditioning and all that."

Here is the rest of the story.  Lopez suffered a herniated disk during the summer, which dislodged some cartilage.  That cartilage died, and it caused him significant pain as it pressed against a nerve.  The doctor's assessment at that time was to give a few weeks for the cartilage to be naturally removed by his body.  The pain persisted, and with Lopez' return to campus on Monday, the medical staff informed him that it was likely to take much longer for the cartilage to be naturally alleviated, once it persisted after that first few weeks.

Presented with a choice of a medical redshirt or surgery to remove the cartilage, Lopez unsurprising opted to go under the knife this week.  The surgery was reportedly successful, and Brook Lopez should be able to attend the full breadth of his classes when Stanford's autumn quarter begins Monday.  His expected recovery time from the surgery is three to four weeks, which would take him to mid-to-late October.  Lopez at that point will have been without conditioning (and basketball) for three months.  He will need several more weeks to go from recovery to game shape.  A conservative target is December 1.  Coming back from back surgery, who knows how he will progress and whether he will suffer setbacks?

December 1 does not sound "too late" for Lopez' return, but the Cardinal could have as many as eight regular season games already in the books by then if they are able to survive the early rounds of the CBE Classic and advance to its final foursome in Kansas City.  Moreover, Texas Tech is waiting in the wings at the 10th annual Pete Newell Challenge on December 3.

In this year of unprecedented youth, inexperience and questions for the Cardinal, the respective injuries and time missed by Lopez and Prowitt stir up yet more story lines for Stanford Basketball in 2006-07.

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