Five weeks after the surgery on the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot, Chris Hernandez is back in action for Stanford basketball. Last week he took part in some of the lighter drills, mostly offense sets without any defenders, but Monday he returned to full action including five-on-five work.
Hernandez was in some drills, and then out of others. Each time he went to the sidelines, it looked like he might be done for the practice, but then he returned for more. In total, he participated in maybe 40-50% of the practice, spending the rest either watching from the sidelines or working with trainer JoHan Wang in shooting or body control drills designed to help return him to full strength. One such drill had Hernandez stand on one foot (his left) while he caught passes from Wang, and then returned with a chest pass while still on the one foot.
After practice, Hernandez said he felt fine, and has not experienced any unusual soreness or pain after these practices. He has felt some stiffness when he is on the sideline too long, but that's par for the course after a period of inactivity like this.
He did not look out of shape, though, in the practice, and pushed the ball down the floor at a pace much like before his injury. Indeed, the sophomore point guard admitted the surprise that he can get through as much of a practice as he did Monday and not feel winded. The plan is for him to add more and more to the next few practices, building to his first return to game action this Saturday versus St. Mary's. At this time, his conversation with coach Mike Montgomery has indicated that he will play eight minutes in this first game. In each of the games the following week (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday), his minutes will increase and push into the high 'teens, provided that he shows he can play well in game condition at game speeds.
The return of Hernandez will also affect several guards in the rotation, as his minutes pick up. Julius Barnes would play more at the shooting guard, and that would likely cut into the minutes of Matt Lottich and Dan Grunfeld at that position. Although, with a lineup still short on big bodies, Stanford expects to play minutes with Josh Childress and/or Nick Robinson at the power forward position, which could open the door for a three-guard lineup where Lottich or Grunfeld plays at the '3' spot.
Hernandez says that an explicit conversation with the coaches has not addressed whether or not it is a given that he will return to the starting point guard spot. Conventional wisdom says that Hernandez is the best floor general on this roster, and Barnes could be a more effective scorer when he does not have the yoke of point guard responsibilities. But the Barnes/Lottich backcourt has led this team to a 4-1 record and two big upsets.