Determined Evan Turner recovered quickly to save Ohio St.'s season
Ohio State star Evan Turner broke his back on a dunk attempt on Dec. 5
Buckeyes said Turner would miss at least 12 games, but he was out just six
Turner is back to his old dominant self and has made OSU a contender again
After Ohio State's Evan Turner crashed to the court following a dunk attempt against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 5, his lower back absorbing the brunt of the impact, Turner's career flashed before his eyes.
Turner was taken to the hospital and the news was grim -- he suffered a transverse process fracture of two vertebrae, which affects rotational movements. Later that evening, Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, a veteran of back problems, visited Turner in the hospital and told his star player, "I don't care if you never play another second here. I'm more concerned about your long-term health."
Then, Matta recalls with a laugh, "I went home and slept like a baby -- I woke up every two hours and started crying."
Turner's long-term plan, of course, includes the NBA, but he was also the primary reason the Buckeyes were 7-1 and No. 13 in the country at the time of his injury. Turner already had two triple-doubles -- one more than had been recorded in the previous 112 years of Ohio State hoops history -- and entering the Eastern Michigan game had been leading the team in points (20.6 per game), rebounds (12.9) and assists (6.6) while averaging 35.1 minutes.
With its team ravaged by early matriculation to the NBA -- Matta is quick to point out that, in the old days, his starting five this year would have been Turner, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and Kosta Koufos -- and two lost scholarships due to poor academic performance, Ohio State's prospects without Turner seemed bleak
Ohio State trainer Vince O'Brien says a transverse process fracture is an unusual basketball injury and is more commonly found in impact sports such as football. Figuring that the bone would take four to six weeks to heal and that it would take Turner at least another two weeks to regain his strength, conditioning and flexibility, Ohio State announced that Turner would likely miss eight weeks, a devastating loss carrying well into Big Ten play. The Buckeyes had 12 games in that time, including eight conference games and two nonconference bouts against ranked teams.
"There wasn't a lot in the literature about this injury," O'Brien said. "I hate to say we made it up as we went along, but as he responded to what we were doing, we were able to do more the next day."
Teammate and roommate Jon Diebler says the first few days after Turner's injury were "rough" because "he was upset that he was letting his team down." That's the attitude that has led Matta to call Turner "the most ultracompetitive kid I've ever coached." Still, the coach stressed caution, having undergone two major surgeries to repair disk problems in his back. (Matta still has nerve damage that affects his right foot and requires him to wear a leg brace.)
Of course, Diebler had it rough those first few days, too. Turner's mom, Iris James, drove from Chicago to Columbus to take care of her son during the day, but if Turner needed something in the middle of the night, he'd wake up his roommate, rather than his mother, sometimes stirring Diebler at 3 a.m.
But Turner's injury wasn't all bad for Diebler. "I benefited from it, because his mom was cooking meals for us," he said.
Turner tried to pass the time with extra reading, mostly books recommended to him by the coaching staff, including Tony Dungy's Uncommon. Turner did his best to keep in good humor but soon discovered that, judging by their usual greeting, friends and fans had seemingly changed his first name from Evan to "Are you playing tomorrow?" He tweeted that "only superman tim tebow could play with a broke back."
(Even his teammates got in on the fun. Senior reserve guard Mark Titus, author of the popular Club Trillion blog, wrote that the weeks of Turner's injury will forever be known as the "Brokeback Era" of Turner's career.)
But within five days Turner was already working out on an underwater treadmill and dribbling every free moment on dry land. O'Brien had Turner do 40 minutes of exercise daily, to mimic the length of a game, alternating between aerobic and anaerobic work, the latter of which was broken up into "four-minute wars," replicating the intervals between television timeouts.
As Turner wrapped up his first anaerobic session, he told O'Brien, "[The game] went into overtime. Let me go one more minute." Says O'Brien, "At that point I knew he might come back a little sooner than we anticipated."
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