Injuries suck, don't they?
The Bobcats have already missed a combined 20 games due to injury between four players just six games into the season, by far the most time missed this early during coach Saul Phillips’ tenure.
The Bobcats have dealt with plenty of bad injury luck in the past. Antonio Campbell missed the second half of last season. Khari Harley and Wadley Mompremier were injured for much of their Ohio careers. James Gollon has his fingers crossed he’ll be able to play this entire season.
When Phillips learned Jason Carter would be out for an extended period, the similarities to last season were eerie: A versatile big man with high expectations for his season. Lower leg injury, boot on the foot. The only part missing was the scooter, which Ben Vander Plas provided for much of the preseason because of his foot injury.
And then there was AJ Gareri’s shoulder. Oh, and Kevin Mickle has missed the last two games with a knee injury.
There’s been a silver lining each time the Bobcats have struggled with injuries in the Phillips era. During his freshman year, Jordan Dartis filled in for the injured Harley and never relinquished his starting role. Carter emerged out of the Campbell rubble. Doug Taylor earned valuable experience from the minutes vacated by Mompremier.
But here’s the difference this season: Carter and company get to rejoin the team that’s growing up without them. We don’t know the timetable on all of them yet, but they will return. We don’t know how much the two freshmen, Vander Plas and Gareri, will contribute yet, but there’s potential for growth between the two of them. There will be an adjustment period when everyone returns, but Ohio’s ceiling has undoubtedly been raised in their absence.
This season, the beneficiary of the early injuries has been, well, everyone.
Teyvion Kirk doesn't start this soon if Carter doesn’t get hurt. He’s been the team’s third-best scorer. Taylor doesn’t get to see how well his offseason workout regimen paid off without being thrust into the spotlight as the only healthy big man.
Zach Butler doesn’t get the same chance to exorcise his freshman demons if it isn’t for the sheer amount of available minutes. The same goes for Gollon making the necessary mental adjustments to get his groove back after his injuries.
Mike Laster, Dartis and Gavin Block are the top three leaders in field goal attempts, something only Dartis has done before. The most experienced players on the floor have established themselves as more than just vocal leaders. They knew it was expected of them, and Bobcat fans assumed it would come. But injuries have left them no choice but to seize control of the offense.
Phillips likes to say last season was two seasons in one. The team with Campbell was building toward a certain crescendo, which was halted by his injury. Then the Jaaron Simmons-led team built toward a separate crescendo, which wasn’t enough to get past Kent State in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
This season, the two crescendos will be married into one. We’ll see how good the Bobcats can be without the majority of their front court, then the Bobcats will parlay that development with Carter’s numerous talents, the return of Mickle’s infectious energy and whatever the freshmen can contribute.
How good will the final product be? It’s impossible to know. But Ohio is 3-3 against a schedule that’s featured three NCAA Tournament teams from last year. It’s been competitive in every game without arguably its best player and the majority of its front court depth.
On the surface, it sucks. It sucks that the injury bug has hit the Bobcats so hard and so early. But if the early season injuries end up being sacrifices to a greater end, does it really?