Arizona’s basketball program is no stranger to season-altering injuries, not in the slightest, especially in the Sean Miller years.
Career-ending injuries are a different situation, such as what has happened with Ray Smith by his choice although only 19 years old.
Injuries are a part of the game and Arizona’s basketball coaches through the years were forced to coach through them. Miller’s task now once again is to put the pieces together without a player who could have been a major contributor.
Before Smith suffered his season-ending injury before last season, reports from workouts suggested Smith was emerging as Arizona’s most talented NBA prospect. That promise will not be realized.
Smith is coping with his third serious knee injury in as many years — since before his senior year in high school — with an honorable level of maturity. “The sport does not define who we are only what we can do,” Smith wrote in a letter published on Twitter that announced his retirement from basketball.
The following is a list of significant Arizona injuries over the last 40 years. Interesting to note that five of the 12 players — four in the last three years — listed are Miller players although he is only in his eighth season as head coach.
Lute Olson had six players affected by a serious injury in his 24 years at the school.
Injury: Jim Rappis injured his left heel with 5:57 left in the first half in the 1976 West Regional Semifinal — when the Wildcats beat Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV 114-109 in overtime — but the senior guard continued to play despite being hobbled throughout. He finished with 24 points and 12 assists against the Running Rebels. His 12 assists were more than what UNLV produced as a team.
After: His injury limited him to only four points against UCLA in the West Regional Final, lost by the Wildcats 82-66 at Pauley Pavilion.
Injury: Steve Kerr tore the MCL and ACL in his right knee playing for the U.S. team in the 1986 World Championships in Madrid, forcing him to miss the entire 1986-87 season (of which he would have been a senior).
After: The Wildcats finished 18-12 that season and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament at McKale against UTEP. He returned the following season to lead the Wildcats to their first Final Four trip.
Injury: Richard Jefferson missed 13 games in the 1999-2000 season as a sophomore after fracturing the fifth metatarsal in his right foot three minutes into a game at Stanford on Jan. 8, 2000.
After: He returned a week before the NCAA tournament. Arizona went 27-7 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Wisconsin.
Injury: Loren Woods missed the last eight games of that season as a junior center, including the loss to Wisconsin, because of a back injury. Woods’ lower back injury kept him out of seven games in 2000-01.
After: Arizona advanced to the 2000-01 NCAA title game, which it lost to Duke.
Injury: Gilbert Arenas’ injured his right shoulder, suffered against Michigan State in the Final Four in 2001.
After: The injury affected the sophomore guard’s performance against Duke (shooting 4-of-17 from the field) in the national title game.
Injury: Luke Walton missed four games because of an ankle sprain as a junior in 2002-03, a season in which Arizona was ranked No. 1 three separate times.
After: Arizona lost in the Elite Eight against Kansas with Walton in the lineup
Injury: Nic Wise missed four weeks in the 2007-08 season, his sophomore season, after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery for a torn left meniscus.
After: The Wildcats went 19-15 that season under interim coach Kevin O’Neill and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament against West Virginia.
Injury: Kevin Parrom missed the first month of his freshman season of 2009-10 with a stress fracture in his right foot. He missed four games late in the season with the same injury. Parrom also suffered a broken right foot as a junior on Jan. 28, 2012, and misses the remainder of the 2011-12 season.
After: In 2009-10, the Wildcats finished 16-15 and out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years. In 2011-12, Arizona finished 23-12 with an opening-round loss at home in the NIT against Bucknell.
Injury: Two minutes into the game at Cal on Feb. 1, 2014, sophomore forward Brandon Ashley suffered ligament damage in his right foot that later required surgery. He missed the rest of the season.
After: The Wildcats started 21-0 with him in the lineup. Without him, they went 12-5 the rest of the way and lost in the Elite Eight against Wisconsin.
Injury: Kaleb Tarczewski, a senior center, suffered a left foot injury Nov. 26, 2015, against Santa Clara in the Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim. He missed most of Arizona’s preseason workouts with a nagging foot injury but played in Arizona’s first four games. He wore a boot on his left foot while the stress reaction and strained muscle healed.
After: Tarczewski missed eight games, a stretch in which Arizona went 7-1 with the only loss coming to Providence a day after suffering his injury against Santa Clara.
Injury: Allonzo Trier, Arizona’s leading scorer (14.8 points a game) and most dangerous scoring threat on the perimeter last year as a freshman, broke his right hand during Arizona’s four-overtime loss at USC. Trier scored in double figures in each of Arizona’s past 10 games and produced 25 points, six rebounds and four assists in 53 minutes against the Trojans. He played the last four minutes of regulation and all four overtimes with the broken hand.
After: The Wildcats were 13-3 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 after losing both games at UCLA and USC, at the time of Trier’s injury. He missed seven games and Arizona went 5-2 in that stretch.
Injuries: Ray Smith suffered a season-ending torn right ACL injury in mid-October before his freshman season last year. He was coming off missing his senior season at Las Vegas High School in 2014-15 because of a torn ACL in his left knee. Tuesday night in an exhibition game against the College of Idaho, Smith went down again suffering an ACL tear to his right knee as well as other ligament and meniscus damage.
After: Arizona played its 2015-16 season without a true wing — Smith was only one who fit the description — and the Wildcats finished 25-9 with a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament to Wichita State. As for this season, Miller commented that power forward Lauri Markkanen may have to handle the wing, although Miller can also call on Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons at that position.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.