Derek Elston never saw this coming. He was healthy and fit and ready to make his Indiana senior basketball season his best.
And then … history repeated itself.
He tore knee cartilage – again.
He was on the sideline – again.
He was going through rehab – again.
So now the senior forward heals and rehabs and works to return to the nation's No. 1 team ASAP. Estimates vary from one to two months, with it very likely he'll be back at full strength for the start of Big Ten play.
“I was pretty upset,” he says. “Your senior year you wish for the best. I've been through this before, so I'm not too worried about it, but it (stinks). I've been telling everybody I'm finally healthy and now this happens.”
Perfect health remains an elusive quest for Elston. He had knee surgery in high school and has had knee issues since the sixth grade. As an IU sophomore he was hindered by a sports hernia that finally required surgery. Last year he broke his nose in practice and had to wear a mask for a while.
How the newest injury happens remains a mystery. Elston says his knees started bothering him “a couple of days” before the Oct. 20 Hoosier Hysteria.
“Hoosier Hysteria was like the last straw,” he says. “When I was running during the scrimmage part, I couldn't move like I had been. I took myself out and had my knee drained that night. A lot of fluid came out, but none of it was bloody, so I didn't think anything about it. But the next couple of days I couldn't practice a whole lot.”
A MRI was taken and the torn meniscus discovered.
“Trainers were asking me, did I get hurt?” Elston says. “Did I make a move or make a cut? I've got bad knees anyway and I would have known if I had gotten hit. I didn't get hit. It just started swelling up. I must have made a wrong cut, and there it went.”
The 6-9, 216-pound Elston averaged 4.2 points and 2.4 rebounds last season, and averages 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds for his career. He has shown improved leadership this season, particularly with the freshmen.
“He's been playing at a good level, working hard, improving,” coach Tom Crean said. “I don't see this taking away a season or anything like that. He knows what's expected of him. He can get rebounds…
“He's been a tremendous leader. He's been as anybody in the program at trying to help the younger players."
Elston had surgery in Carmel on Friday. How long before he's back on the court?
“Tim (Garl) tells me as long as I take rehab seriously, I could be on the court sooner than anybody expects,” he says. “I'll do what I need to do to get back.”
In the meantime Elston expects to help freshman inside players Hanner Perea (still battling a foot injury) and Peter Jurkin. He will be, in some ways, like a part-time coach.
“In a way, that's fine,” he says. “Even though I can't be on the floor with them for a while, I'll coach up the guys I need to. I'll give my 2 cents in practice. That's what I need to be doing anyway. The new guys have a lot of stuff they need to be working on.”
There is a potential glitch. Perea and Jurkin apparently have not yet been cleared by the NCAA's Eligibility Center. Evaluations often take longer for foreign athletes. Perea is from Colombia, although he went to high school at northern Indiana's La Lumiere School. Jurkin is from South Sudan but attended United Faith Christian Academy in North Carolina.
If that evaluation extends deep into November and Elston remains sidelined, IU could have some inside depth issues. Still, the Hoosiers would have All-America forward Cody Zeller, All-Big Ten forward Christian Watford, heralded freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell, plus versatile players such as Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, to handle the inside challenges.