Nov. 23, 2004
MADISON, Wisc. -
On a cool Sunday evening in Madison, Wisc., the UC Santa Barbara men's basketball team is going through a practice in the University of Wisconsin's practice facility attached to the Kohl Center, the Badgers home arena.
As head coach Bob Williams puts the Gauchos through their paces, three of the team's most important players hover around the perimeter.
Junior guard Cecil Brown, his right knee in a brace, shoots free throws and short flat-footed shots at a basket in the corner of the facility. Occasionally, Brown will look over his right shoulder to see what his healthy teammates are doing on the court.
Junior forward Cameron Goettsche is in a semi-squat position, leaning from left to right and sliding along one sideline. Goettsche is rehabilitating a groin injury, and although he took part in the early drills, mostly of the non-contact, jog up and down the court variety, when the tough stuff starts he moves off the side and goes into rehab-mode.
Redshirt freshman forward Chris Devine, still on crutches following a mid-October surgery on his right knee, sits on the base of one of the baskets, his right leg stretched out in front of him and his chin resting in his right palm.
Athletic Trainer Leroy Heu, who these days has more contact with the injured threesome than the head coach, makes the rounds, checking in with each of the three throughout the 90-minute practice.
Like kids stuck inside with nothing to do on a rainy day, the trio is going stir crazy. In his own way, each player tries to remain focused and patient.
Of the three injured UCSB players on the trip, Devine is the only one who has never actually played in a collegiate game. Brown and Goettsche were both important players last season. But Devine has yet to play in a game. In fact, the trek to the midwest is the first real road trip for the 6-foot-8 native of Alaska.
"Most of the time I am pretty good at being focused," Devine said. "I know that I will have a steep hill to climb when I get back, and I want to be as prepared as I can, so I watch and listen. I try to absorb as much as I can."
Devine, who just recently began walking again and is expected to return at some , sometimes picks up a ball and unconsciously begins launching shots as he bides his time. When he does, he has to remind himself to slow down and do what's best.
"It's my nature to start shooting the ball when I pick it up, but I have to catch myself and stop," he said. "I have to remind myself that I am not supposed to shoot and that I need to be patient."
Brown, without question one of the team's leaders, suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament when he slipped on the Thunderdome floor in practice after the team's first exhibition game. Last year, he averaged 7.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game and he hopes to return in late-December or early-January. Brown is, without question, one of UCSB's leaders on, and off, the court. He has tried to salvage some of that role in spite of his absence from the active list.
"I know that I am expected to be one of the team's leaders, so it is driving me crazy that I can't play," Brown said. "But even though I am out, I try to stay vocal and I try to help keep the guys involved. It's tough, but I realize I am a pretty big part of this team and I will do what is best in the long run."
Clearly Brown understands his standing with the team. During UCSB's season-opening win at San Diego State, he was edgy, but he didn't let his nerves prevent him from staying in tune with the game and making his presence felt.
"I was so nervous, especially before the game," Brown recalled. "But during the game, I kind of became a player-coach. When something would go wrong on the court, I would think `I can fix that'. I was talking to guys during timeouts and when we went into the overtime. It was a different experience, but I thought it was important for me to find a way to contribute."
Goettsche, averaged 8.0 points and a team-leading 5.5 rebounds per game in 2003-04. He is probably the closest of any Gaucho to returning. In fact, Williams hopes to have his forward back on a limited basis for UCSB's game at San Francisco on Saturday. Goettsche understands the value of patience as he recovers from an injury to his groin.
"The toughest part is that I really believe I can go through an entire practice right now," he said. "But I realize that if I do, I will feel it in a big way tomorrow and that could set me back. I understand that I need to look at the big picture, and if I do what I'm supposed to do, I will be back. I really do understand that it is in my best interest and the team's best interest to full recover before I come back."
Devine, Brown and Goettsche all understand the importance of concentrating in practice, even if they are not breaking much of a sweat. None of the three, however, are immune to daydreaming.
"When the coaches are going over stuff I know, or stuff that isn't relevant, I find myself thinking about playing or lost in other thoughts," admitted Devine. "But I also realize that when I come back, if I have no idea what we are running or what we are supposed to do in certain situations, then I will be even further behind and my hill will be even steeper."
"I have to pay attention," began Goettsche, "because I can never know when we are going to change something, or put in a new wrinkle. If I don't listen, I won't have a clue about something new that Coach has put in. That would hurt the team and it would be embarrassing for me."
In addition to the three injured players who have accompanied the team to Big Ten country, the Gauchos have a fourth injured player sitting at home in Santa Barbara. Walk-on forward David Kennedy is suffering from a stress fracture in his right leg. He was with the team in San Diego and he too was like a kid stuck inside on a rainy day. Kennedy is expected to return at some point in mid-to-late December.
UCSB head coach Bob Williams is taking the rash of injuries in stride. He has kept his walking wounded involved, including them in virtually all team functions outside of practice, but he looks forward to their respective returns.
"As a team, we are doing what we have to do to cope, because we have no choice," Williams assured. "All of our guys, whether they are playing or not, are a part of this team and they have input in all of our meetings and even in practice. I do look forward to having a whole team, but if all of us can grow from this, on and off the court, then it will have been a valuable experience."
UCSB plays at 21st-ranked Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Gauchos will still have just nine players available for the game against the Badgers, but they will also have their injured trio on the bench, watching, listening, and generally going stir crazy.