One word sums up the past month for freshman Devonte’ Graham: Uncertainty.
His injury prognosis was all over the spectrum.
“At first they thought I had jammed my toe,” Graham said. “Then I might have to have surgery.”
Coach Bill Self feared the worst at one point during Graham’s recovery, publicly saying that a medical redshirt was unlikely, but was still not out of the question.
Graham vividly remembers the sequence of when it all went down at Georgetown.
“I missed a free throw, got the rebound, went back up to lay the ball in and came down—and Josh Smith came down on the back of my heel,” Graham said.
In other words, a 6-foot-10, 350 pound center, crashed down onto the foot of a 6-foot-2, 175 pound point guard.
“My shoe had come off, so I was on the ground for a little while, I tied it back up and tried to run down the court—I couldn’t,” Graham said. “I had to come out of the game.”
At that point, Graham had six points, three rebounds, one steal and one assist in 19 minutes of play.
Graham said Smith ripped through his tape, so he had to go to the locker room to get re-taped.
“That’s when I figured out it wasn’t really my heel, it was my toe and I couldn’t walk,” Graham said. “Any pressure I put on my foot was agonizing.”
Graham spent the first few days after the Georgetown game on ice. He tried walking, but he couldn’t. The training staff moved to using orthotics, but Graham said that still couldn’t make him walk or alleviate any of his pain.
“After that didn’t work, I went to see the doctor in Kansas City,” Graham said. “He told me I would have to be out for at least four to six weeks.”
His doctor told him he sustained a sprained toe—commonly known as “turf toe”—and his timetable for return was unclear.
“The doctors feel like he can come back,” Self said days after Graham’s initial injury. “They feel like he can come back, but they also said he may not come back (this season).”
Graham said he initially took the news hard.
“I was kind of depressed,” Graham said. “It was hard not being on the court.”
Fortunately for Graham, he had a lot of support that kept up his spirits.
“My teammates kept me up, coaches kept me up, family kept me up, and the fans kept me up,” Graham said.
Road to Recovery
At the tail end of December, Graham was still not cleared to practice.
“He can’t do anything,” Self said on Dec. 29. “Can’t even ride a bike. He’s basically on the same workout plan I’m on.”
One day later, the winds changed.
Twenty days after suffering his injury, Graham received good news from the doctor—he was able to take the boot off.
“When I got my boot off, we were just taking it one day at a time,” Graham said. “I didn’t know when I would be able to return. It was based off what my toe was giving me.”
Graham said his toe was sore for a couple days, but it was nothing to worry about because the doctors advised that he would have some swelling and pain.
Once his swelling and pain reduced, Graham said he was back out there working out, moving at a faster pace than his doctor thought he would. That workout made him feel like he was ready to return.
He asked Coach Self to let him run a full practice before the Texas Tech game. That idea had to go by Bill Cowgill, the associate director of sports medicine, before Graham could even lace up for practice.
Cowgill approved, and Graham returned to practice.
Good news stemmed from that practice for Graham.
“After that practice, Self thought I was able to play against Texas Tech,” Graham said. “I was really excited. I could barely sleep.”
On Jan. 10, exactly one month after he departed from the Georgetown game, Graham was dressed out for Texas Tech.
When the clock wound down to 12:51 in the first half, Self called up Graham.
A smile flashed across his face when he took off his warm up.
He was ready to come back.
The crowd was ready for him to come back and greeted him with loud cheering and applause.
Graham played for 19 minutes, scored two points and racked up six rebounds and six assists.
“I felt great,” Graham said after the game. “The toe wasn’t hurting and I just tried to come in and contribute the best way I could. The ovation I got as I walked on the court was great and made me more nervous.”
His second game back, against Oklahoma State, Graham played for 21 minutes, scoring nine points and adding three assists.
Graham continued on the up and up at Iowa State on Saturday. He played 20 minutes and scored 10 points, the most for any player off the bench. He also led the team in assists (4) and was tied for the lead in steals (2).
He said the toe ordeal isn’t completely over, even though he’s played on it.
“It gets really sore after workouts and practice, so I keep getting treatment,” Graham said. “It’s nothing bad though.”
Graham reflected back on the whirlwind month and the moment that started it all.
“He’s huge,” Graham said of Smith. “Should stay away from him.”