Fragile Cats must be handled with care

Column by Jonathan Smith

UK’s basketball players have to be feeling good right now.

They’ve won three straight games, and with matchups this week against two of the Southeastern Conference’s worst teams, the Cats have got to like their chances of being 6-2 in the conference when they travel to Vanderbilt next week.

UK’s players aren’t feeling good, though. Physically, at least.

Ramel Bradley’s got the flu, a concussion and cut on his chin. Joe Crawford can’t shake the plantar fasciitis in his foot. Jodie Meeks’ hip flexor injury seems to change more than the frontrunner in the Republican presidential race (although that has a chance to be all but over by tonight).

And it appears things won’t be getting better anytime soon.

UK head coach Billy Gillispie said during the SEC coaches teleconference yesterday that Bradley was still feeling the effects of his concussion , and the virus he had going into the Georgia game hasn’t gotten any better. He also said he hasn’t “seen any improvements yet” out of Meeks.

None of that is good news. And it can only get worse if they are rushed back to action too soon. Gillispie, the UK training staff and those players need to be patient in returning them to the court. They need to be held out of games and out of practice until they’re at, or very close to, 100 percent.

UK can afford to not have those guys until they’re near 100 percent because the team is playing well right now.

Derrick Jasper, Michael Porter and Ramon Harris all played great ball on Saturday in the win over Georgia. They showed that they’re capable of filling in for the injured guys temporarily.

Perry Stevenson has played really well the last two weeks. He can give UK a good 30 minutes a game. And the Cats’ best player, Patrick Patterson, is healthy. The only problem with Patterson is that he doesn’t shoot it enough.

Those players, with the exception of Jasper, are healthy. Jasper underwent microfracture surgery on his knee in the offseason. Although he is probably not 100 percent, he’s played at least 22 minutes in four straight games and appears to be healthy enough to go the rest of the season. But the Cats are taking risks if they play their injured players, especially Meeks.

Hip injuries have ended the careers of some athletes. Who knows the severity of Meeks’ injury? But Gillispie has said for some time that Meeks’s hip has not been healing quickly.

To be fair, Meeks didn’t play against Georgia. But he played in the three games before the Athens trip after sitting out against Mississippi State on Jan. 15. Playing a game or a stretch of games here and there, and sitting out some of the other games doesn’t seem like the best way to recover from an injury.

Crawford’s condition, plantar fasciitis, is caused by physical activity overload and results in burning and stabbing pains in the heel, according to the Mayo Clinic’s Web site. A treatment of the injury is a no-exercise or low-exercise regimen. UK is trying that by holding Crawford out of practices, but reversing that by letting him play in games.

Crawford could probably be making money next year by playing basketball. I’m certainly, absolutely and positively no doctor, but it would be a shame if this injury kept him from doing that. Ignoring the foot condition can lead to long term problems that can hamper normal activities, according to the clinic Web site.

These are what UK needs to think about in the next few weeks when trying to decide whether to play its injured players.

The players are the ones feeling bad now. But it could be the coaching and training staffs that feel bad if these injuries haunt the athletes for the rest of their careers.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail

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