Washington forward set to return

His experience was expected to help stabilize a youthful turnaround for the Washington Huskies after losing four players. What Mike Jensen didn't account for was his shoulder to play tricks on him. And so while his team has started the season 9-0, it's been in spite of having a full arsenal at their disposal. That arsenal includes a healthy Jensen, something Husky hoops fans will see this Friday against Lehigh.

"You just can't let it affect you. You have to roll with the punches," Jensen said Tuesday before his second full practice in preparation for game action against the Mountain Hawks. It will mark the first time Jensen gets to suit up after his shoulder popped out during a routine rebounding drill he was doing with teammate Hans Gasser before school started.

"He did a swim move on me, the same move I've seen a thousand times, and I could tell it popped out," Jensen said. "There was nothing I could do about it."

It was a shoulder that has caused problems for Jensen in the past. "I watched the surgery on the doctor's computer," he said of this most recent operation. "He cleaned out my whole shoulder." The doctor put Jensen's shoulder back as close as he could to where it was when he was born, removing a bunch of scar tissue and two tacks from a previous operation. Jensen will be wearing a skin-tight brace on his shoulder and at 90 percent strength right now, he can't put a ton of weight on it while it's bent backwards. But the doctors have cleared him to play after he passed a battery of tests to make sure he wasn't coming back too soon.

"I'll probably wear it (brace) until after the Arizona game," said Jensen.

For Jensen, being the oldest Husky does have some perks. "Mike has proven he can play and proven he can help us win," said Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar. "He doesn't need to prove anything to us. When he was on the floor you had to guard him. And he's a great post defender. And you can't undervalue his experience. Not only is he a three-year starter, but he's been here longer than anyone on our roster."

"Especially in the past, he's been able to stretch defenses," added senior guard Brandon Roy. "He's going to bring that back to us."

"We haven't had a chance to stretch defenses a lot, which is something I can," said Jensen. "We'll be able to get a lot more post-ups for our guards like Brandon (Roy) and Bobby. It's a good change of pace."

Of course this is all in theory. There's no question Jensen can provide solid defense inside and draw defenders out to hit the three. But he has yet to get a chance to play with some of his new teammates in a live situation. And he is quick to point out that it will be a process to assimilate his play into the chemistry of what has already been working for the 9-0 Huskies.

"It's actually just like riding a bike," he said about getting back on the court. "I've been playing here for so long in this system. But any time injuries set you back, you are out of rhythm and that takes some time getting back into it. It's a little bit of a process."

Roy is one of those players that wants Jensen to get back in his groove sooner, rather than later. "I just told him to relax and play hard," he said. "To be the best team possible, we need him to be playing well."

So you would think a three-year starter would have plenty of sway when it comes to returning from injury, but there are a couple of roadblocks. The first one is Jensen's physical condition. "There was a lot of running," he said of his first practice back. "It took some time to get used to it again, but I think it went really well. I did pretty much everything. I need to get in game shape, which is more of things like lateral movement."

"Everybody is different," offered Romar, noting that Jensen would not start against Lehigh. His minutes will be dictated by the course of the game. "Some guys, it's taken three years to get them in game condition. With athletic guys like Mike, it could take him a couple of weeks and he's ready to go. It's hard to tell."

"I could be ready by Arizona State and Arizona," added Jensen. "I feel like I've been ready to go for a while now, but it's all about the doctors. If the doctors clear me to do more, then there's more I'll do."

The second part has to do with the sheer numbers of inside players. Romar admitted that he's never had an inside contingent like he has now at Washington, and of course it's a welcome problem to have. So who plays? Bobby Jones, Jon Brockman and Jamaal Williams have shown they need to be in the game. Hans Gasser has come in for valuable minutes in nearly every game this year and has transformed his body and play into being a huge reserve for Romar. And there's also freshman Artem Wallace, who is gaining confidence game-by-game.

And then there's Jensen - a player who has started in 87 games in his career. He has to fit in somewhere.

"I think everyone wants to start," Romar said of the difficulty of finding everybody suitable minutes. "I think Brandon wanted to start last year. I think Curtis Allen wanted to start his senior year. I don't think that will affect Mike at this point. We've got a lot of games left. I would imagine Mike will be in there playing, but I wouldn't count Artem out. He's too talented to be left out."

Wallace, for his part, is just happy to be getting his chance to prove himself while learning on the job. "It feels like I'm getting better at learning the system, especially defense," Wallace said. "I never had to play post defense in high school, I never had to play with that kind of pressure, never tried to deny the ball. We just let teams bring the ball in and went from there."

"He hasn't been able to get comfortable yet, but the ability is definitely there," Romar said of Wallace. "He's going to get in there one day - it could be today or in the middle of the conference - and things are going to happen for him and he's not going to look back. He can be a go-to guy for us on the block."

And Jensen? "It's always fun to be part of the starting five of a top-10 team," he said. "Last year we had 6-7 guys that could have started. I'm not expecting anything, but it's one of my personal goals. I think it helps to make everyone one better and should be everyone's goal. Jamaal's really stepped it up his game and (Jon) Brockman is just a hard-nosed player. The competition just brings the best out of you.

"Guys raising their level of play is why we're 9-0."

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