Gilbert insists shoulder is '100 percent' healthy for upcoming UConn men's basketball season

Published on Saturday, 8 July 2017 22:14
Written by NEILL OSTROUT

JOURNAL INQUIRER

Alterique Gilbert’s first freshman season of college basketball lasted all of 2½ games.

The first official practice for his second freshman season of college basketball - technically a redshirt freshman campaign - is some 2½ months away.

Gilbert says he’ll be more than ready.

Just before halftime of UConn’s third game of the 2016-17 season, against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, the McDonald’s All-American point guard tore the labrum in his left shoulder. It was his second major shoulder injury in seven months.

It was one of three season-ending injuries the Huskies absorbed in what became one of the most painful years for UConn in recent team history.

But Gilbert’s body has mended, and with it perhaps the psyche of many UConn fans. If Gilbert, forward Terry Larrier and big man Mamadou Diarra all come back strong, the team’s 15-17 record last season will fade into a memory even faster.

Gilbert said this week that his rehab has progressed according to plan and that his shoulder is 100 percent ready for action.

“The shoulder is doing well. It has gotten a lot better,” Gilbert said during a break from his summer session class at UConn. “It’s even stronger, in my opinion.”

Sitting out nearly an entire season wasn’t what Gilbert had in mind when he decided to join the Huskies. But the time wasn’t wasted, it seems.

“It was difficult, but eventually I started to see it as a positive,” Gilbert said.

Watching the Huskies play, on TV initially and then on the bench, gave him new insights into the game and the team. But learning to be something of a coach, cheerleader and teammate wasn’t the only positive.

“Off the court I learned a lot about myself, and started to do a lot of other things I found fun,” he said.

With a bit more free time, Gilbert said he enjoyed swimming, painting and reading the Bible.

He also had two teammates to lean on for support who were going through similar years. Larrier and Diarra were dealing with knee injuries, but were largely in the same situation as Gilbert.

“It was helpful. You knew you weren’t going to be by yourself through it all,” Gilbert said.

He’s already been going through plenty of individual on-court workouts and practicing with small groups of teammates, but Gilbert has yet to be cleared by UConn’s medical staff for full, 5-on-5 contact. That will change soon.

“It starts next week,” Gilbert said. “I can’t wait to get back at it. But at the same time I’m not rushing it.”

Though he appears at this point to be extremely injury-prone, Gilbert insists he has no fear of doing further damage. He does, of course, admit that a return to game action will at least initially weigh heavily on his mind.

“It’s definitely mental,” Gilbert said.

That’s where Gilbert should excel, perhaps.

“He’s such a mentally strong player,” said Sharman White, Gilbert’s coach in high school.

White coached Gilbert for four years at Miller Grove High in Lithonia, Georgia. Although White is now an assistant at Georgia State, he keeps in frequent touch with Gilbert.

White believes Gilbert’s shoulder injuries won’t keep him from succeeding on the court.

“He’s definitely not going to let it win,” White said. “He feels that he’s been given a gift and he’s not going to give it away.”

White and Gilbert spoke briefly Thursday morning, and White came away believing more than ever that his former point guard is destined for success.

“He’s a dedicated young man. I’m expecting good things,” said White, who won six straight state titles at Miller Grove. “I’m expecting him to have a big year and show all the people there what he can do.”

UConn coach Kevin Ollie said during a recent interview that “it’s good to see Alterique back on the court,” but he isn’t ready to proclaim the guard’s return to the Huskies as the key to a 25-win season.

“I’m just taking it day by day. I don’t know how the team is going to be, but we’re going to work hard and we’re going to put it all together,” Ollie said.

For his part, Gilbert believes the 15-17 record will be greatly improved upon. He knows no one associated with the program wants to go through it again.

“It was tough to watch but we all did the best we could,” Gilbert said of the 2016-17 campaign, which began with home losses to Wagner and Northeastern, games in which Gilbert and Larrier played.

The turnover on the UConn roster has been profound since Gilbert last appeared on the court. Two of UConn’s heralded “Top Five” recruiting class, Vance Jackson and Juwan Durham, have transferred. Sophomore center Steven Enoch did the same.

“It was just some personal things,” Gilbert said. “We knew that it was possible, that’s the business part of it. But we’re all still brothers.”



Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports, UConn on Saturday, 8 July 2017 22:14. Updated: Saturday, 8 July 2017 22:16.