The loss of Trevon Brazile for the season is devastating.
Writing about his torn ACL is difficult. A season-ending injury for any athlete feels unfair. It feels more unfair when the athlete is in the midst of a breakout season — and even more unfair when the athlete is on the cusp of a lucrative professional career.
Brazile may be the most unique player of the Eric Musselman era. Players standing 6-foot-10 with 7-foot-2.5 wingspans who can jump out of the gym do not come along very often. Add his ability to make 3-pointers and penetrate off the dribble and you quickly get into “we might not see this combination again” territory. Brazile anchored the Hogs’ most dangerous defensive unit. A blur of arms and athleticism.
I am old enough to remember when a blown ACL was almost always career ending for an athlete. Thankfully this is no longer the case. I confirmed this by looking at a list of NBA players who have returned after having ACL reconstructive surgery. The list is long and reassuring. There is no reason to believe the injury will prevent Brazile from having a long and productive career. This is not to diminish the immense time and effort required to overcome such an injury.
National Title Hopes and Dreams for Arkansas Basketball
On Tuesday, I was driving to my brother’s house to watch the game with my nephew and sister-in-law (my brother was out of town on work). The talking heads on the college basketball show to which I was listening mentioned Arkansas had 22-to-1 odds to win the national championship.
Not that I cared too much since I have sworn off sports gambling – not because I ever lost too much money, but because sports gambling proved to be a huge waste of time. I found myself watching mid-February NBA games on which I stood to lose literally tens of dollars.
When I heard those odds, my brain immediately started churning. I could bet on the Razorbacks now and spend the entire tournament hedging as appropriate. No luck required. At the very least I would break even.
I have a wealth of bitter experience which allows me to banish these thoughts. I would have managed to lose money, with or without Trevon Brazile. It’s just the way of the world. But I am certain the math made sense prior to Brazile’s injury.
Finding out the news Wednesday about the severity of Brazile’s injury left me despondent. Despondent for Brazile. Despondent about the team’s future success.
The loss of Brazile changes the ceiling for this year’s team. Is there still a path to the championship without Brazile? It’s clear certain college basketball analysts have jumped off the bandwagon. Meanwhile, I’m on the fence. I found myself wondering how much this will affect the other players on the team. However, my faith in Eric Musselman and his staff runs deep.
Faith in Eric Musselman
This is another opportunity for Eric Musselman to shine. We are back in the chemistry set period of the season. Musselman will continue to experiment with lineups and find out who he can go to war with. I recall Musselman saying he often thinks about what his father would do when it came to choosing a lineup. It went something along the lines of, “Find your five longest, biggest, toughest guys and play them.”
Musselman has also repeatedly mentioned how much he liked having a starter (Brazile) on the bench to start the game. Is it possible Kamani Johnson could step into the starting role and Jordan Walsh could become the sixth man? Johnson is the type of player Musselman can go to war with. He can set picks, rebound and play defense. Scoring should not be a problem in the starting five with Nick Smith Jr. back. This would free up Walsh to sub in for any of the starters. Hopefully he can continue to develop his jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none game.
The loss of Brazile also makes Devo Davis’ return even more crucial. His willingness and ability to play defense on players of all shapes and sizes is now necessary. Arkansas needs him more than ever to play to his strengths on offense — mid-range jump shots and highlight reel assists and eliminate his turnovers.
This year may be something of a departure for Musselman. He may be forced to rely on the disparate talents of his non-core players at different times depending on the matchups and practice performance.
Brazile’s injury also forced me to relearn those same old life lessons. Not to take the good things in your life for granted. To savor those moments when fortune smiles on you. It drove me back to the Stoics, to the ancient wisdom of Seneca the Younger and Marcus Aurelius.
“This is the touchstone of such a spirit; no prizefighter can go with high spirits into the strife if he has never been beaten black and blue; the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped and felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever.”
– Seneca, Moral Letters to Lucilius, Letter 13. On Groundless Fears
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