But I didn’t want him to get away without this observation being made: His playing — and contributing — for the Wildcats this past season was one of the tougher achievements I’ve ever seen in sports first-hand.
Jasper had microfracture knee surgery in June, missed 10 games, then averaged 4.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Those numbers may not seem like much, but anyone who watched UK play knows how important Jasper was to the team, and how much better he made them. He played in 20 games for UK. The Wildcats were 13-7 with him, 5-6 without him.
You could say that without him, the team doesn’t get to the NCAA Tournament, maybe doesn’t finish with a winning record.
He played with his knee heavily braced, did not move well, and could not play in long spurts. But when he was on the floor, things flowed better, he was a surprisingly effective presence on the boards, and his passing and improved shooting meant that he was more than just an experienced body.
Now consider the time missed by the following prominent players who underwent microfracture surgery:
Greg Oden — Had the surgery, sat out his entire NBA rookie season.
Allan Houston — Had the surgery in January, played in nine games later that season, then played in only 20 the next before retiring.
Chris Webber — Had the surgery, sat out 9 months.
Matt Harpring — Had the surgery, sat out 10 months.
Pat Garrity — Missed 8 1/2 months.
Jason Kidd — Missed 5 months.
Zach Randolph — Missed 7 months.
Rashad McCants — Missed 7 1/2 months.
There’s a good bit of variety among players, but the minimum down time for an effective return from microfracture surgery seems to be 5 months, with the optimum being a longer wait, since the most important recovery aspect from the surgery is rest — allowing the tiny fractures in the knee to fully heal.
Jasper had surgery on June 15 of last year. He returned to practice on Dec. 11. So that’s a six-month recovery, which is on the quick side, but still on a par with what many microfracture patients have tried.
Here’s where it gets dicey. Three days into his one-hour-per-day allotment, Jasper had a sharp pain in the repaired knee and had to leave practice. Yet still he kept a rush on to get back, with the Wildcats struggling badly on the court.
When asked by The C-J if he ever thought he’d redshirt, Jasper said: “No, coach said he wasn’t going to redshirt me. He wanted me on the floor.”
In the same interview, Jasper said his knee was nowhere near 100 percent.
Gillispie, meanwhile, said at the time he thought Jasper probably could have played on Dec. 8 against Indiana, and said on a radio show that Jasper probably should have played against UAB on Dec. 15.
Once in the lineup, Jasper made an immediate difference, but there were still some warning signs with the knee. On Jan. 13, Jasper sprained the medial collateral ligament in the same left knee on which he’d had surgery. He missed only one game — a loss at Mississippi State — the returned for the rest of the season.
I don’t know how Jasper will recover in the long run, and I’m sure not a medical professional, but I do believe that getting back into action as quickly as he did was a physical sacrifice on Jasper’s part, because while it was certainly the best thing for the UK team, it probably was not the best thing for him physically.
He played with pain and weakness in that knee, with a bulky brace, and played effectively. I don’t know that you could ask a guy to be tougher than that.
He may have left Kentucky, but he didn’t leave without giving something special.
ONE MORE INJURY observation. Jodie Meeks missing 11 of UK’s last 13 games is more understandable after his diagnosis with a sports hernia. And that should lend more respect to another local player, former University of Louisville star Taquan Dean. He played the last 2 1/2 months of the 2004 season with a double sports hernia, and still wound up averaging 10.8 points while shooting 40.1 percent from three-point range. Even with the injury, he averaged 27 minutes per game.