CHARLOTTE — Abdul Gaddys ACL tear almost ripped the Huskies season apart. No single event had more influence on the year.
Gaddy tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Jan. 4. He knew it was a tear. He didnt know the ripple effect his injury would have on his leg and mind would mimic the troubles Washington would soon go through.
This was tangible damage, unlike the investigation into Venoy Overton. Washington went from the uber-luxury of three point guards — two manic, Gaddy serene — back to two. Overton went through numerous dings on and off the court. What was a position swollen with positive was reduced to an all-or-nothing prospect with Isaiah Thomas. Luckily for Washington, he was often adept.
When Scott Suggs was hurt, it amplified Gaddys loss. Again a prior power, depth, was being whittled down and started with Gaddys departure.
Gaddy received the assessment of his knee injury with coach Lorenzo Romar beside him in the training room. The medical staff said tear. Gaddy thought, OK, a couple weeks. Then they told him his year was over.
That hit him, Romar said. It was so hard to see him go through that. At that point, it was Oh my goodness (in Gaddys mind). The walls started closing in on him at that point.
The calm of a hyper team was forced to surgery. Gaddy limped in back tunnels of Hec Edmundson Pavilion with a large black brace and silver crutches. He was able to eventually make his way to the bench, where he has watched in team-issued shirts since.
Its a difficult thing to go through, just sitting there watching, because Ive never been through this before, Gaddy said.
Already using a cerebral approach to supplement superior size for a point guard, Gaddy has shifted to a full-time student of the game. Pregame, Romar points out nuance for Gaddy to watch for from each opponent. A player used to throwing no-look passes now sees everything.
Its reinforcing what I did see and Im seeing new things, too, Gaddy said. Like where youre at on defense. When we tend to relax. When youre in the game, you dont think youre relaxing at all. You think a team just scores because they play good offense, but you see times where we relax.
Then we have times where were playing great. You see what types of plays certain players can make, so you can help them get in their comfort zone.
Its akin to the removal and assessment Romar puts himself through after each season. Hell watch every game of the year right after the year ends. Then he will run it back, watching again three months later. Once the emotion is unplugged from the breakdown, clarity comes. So it has happened for Gaddy.
Instead of not having anything to reference it to, youre watching practice every day, Romar said. Youre hearing the comments coaches are making to players. Youre saying wow.
Whereas when they are saying them to you in the heat of the battle, you might get defensive, you may try to make an excuse.
Gaddys limp on Charlotte streets is mild. The brace is gone. No sleeve, just the scarred knee. He dribbles some, shoots free throws. Hes not allowed to jump yet. He still gets clowned by teammates when being interviewed.
He hopes to be running in April or May. Cutting could come in June or July. He promises to be 100 percent by next fall, fighting off the muscular atrophy that occurred in his injured leg.
After that, its whenever the trainers let me go, Gaddy said. Since Im not in a rush they are going to take the longest time they can and make sure Im in the best shape so I dont hurt it again at all. Im going to take as long as I can so I can get it back 100 percent. I dont want to rush it.
He temporarily broke his restrictions last Saturday at the Pac-10 Tournament. When Thomas hit the game-winning jumper to beat Arizona, Gaddy burst off the bench. At first he was going to run. Then Washington trainer Matt Ludwig shot him a pace-slowing glare.
I just stopped and did a fake run until I got over there, Gaddy said.
This season of hope was reduced with Gaddys injury. The Huskies survived inexplicable, out of character losses at Stanford and against the Oregon schools. Scenarios where Gaddy’s influence could have changed possessions or at least the team vibe.
To its credit, Washington navigated through that and Overtons distraction to enter the NCAA Tournament fueled by the Pac-10 Tournament run.
When Gaddy went down, the year was almost torn apart. Washington recovered just in time.