The unfortunate news of Brandon Williams’ season-ending knee surgery means he won’t share the backcourt with freshman phenom Nico Mannion.
It is a setback Sean Miller’s young but talented team looks to overcome with the Red-Blue Game only about seven weeks away.
“I want to thank my family, fans and the Arizona Basketball program for their continued support,” Williams said in a statement. “I’ve overcome obstacles before in my life and will work with our strength and medical staffs to overcome this one. I’m dedicated to continuing my work in the classroom as a student, and I look forward to supporting my teammates and coaches as I spend this season focusing on my health.”
Williams is being treated for a congenital knee condition called osteochondritis dissecans. The bone under the cartilage of the joint lacks blood flow, leaving it listless. He sat out his junior season in high school after surgery for the same condition. Williams missed six games and was limited after suffering a flare up with the knee last season.
“Brandon is one of the most talented guards we have recruited during my tenure as head coach at Arizona,” Miller said in the statement. “A year ago, Brandon quickly became one of our team’s best players and one of the Pac-12’s most exciting freshmen. The news of Brandon’s season-ending surgery is beyond disheartening. All of us that comprise Brandon’s Arizona Basketball family, as well as our own loyal and passionate fan base, will rally around him and support him as he begins his journey to recovery.”
Miller still has options, including playing Cal-Irvine graduate transfer Max Hazzard at off-guard or using another freshman standout, Josh Green, in the backcourt. However, whenever a team loses a player the caliber of Williams, a five-star recruit, it can difficult in terms of quality depth.
Williams’ situation calls to mind some of the most significant injuries in the history of the program in the last 40 to 45 years.
Two were knee injuries that kept a player out of the season from the start. Two others were season-ending well into the season. And two of them occurred during late runs of the NCAA tournament, affecting Arizona’s chance to advance and win the national title.
— Jim Rappis injured his left heel with 5:57 left in the first half in the 1976 West Regional Semifinal — one of the most thrilling games in UA history when the Wildcats beat Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV 114-109 in overtime — but 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. His injury limited him to only four points against UCLA in the West Regional Final, lost by the Wildcats 82-66 at Pauley Pavilion.
— 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. 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.
— 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. He returned a week before the NCAA tournament. Arizona went 27-7 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Wisconsin.
— Loren Woods missed the last eight games of that season, including the NCAA tournament second-round loss to Wisconsin, because of a back injury. Woods’ lower back injury kept him out of seven games in 2000-01, the season in which Arizona advanced to the NCAA title game when it lost to Duke.
— Gilbert Arenas’ injured right shoulder, suffered against Michigan State in the Final Four in 2001, affected his performance against Duke (shooting 4-of-17 from the field).
— Luke Walton missed four games because of an ankle sprain in 2002-03, a season in which Arizona was ranked No. 1 three separate times and lost in the Elite Eight against Kansas.
— Nic Wise missed four weeks in the 2007-08 season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery for a torn left meniscus. 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.
— Kevin Parrom missed the first month of his freshman season of 2009-10 with a stress fracture. He missed four games late in the season with the same injury. The Wildcats finish 16-15 and out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years. Parrom suffered a broken right foot as a junior on Jan. 28, 2012, and misses the remainder of the 2011-12 season. The Wildcats finish 23-12 with an opening-round loss at home in the NIT against Bucknell.
— Brandon Ashley suffere a broken right foot two minutes into the game at Cal on Feb. 1, 2014, and was out for the remainder of the season. The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the nation, 21-1 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12 at the time of the devastating injury. The team would advance to the Elite Eight at Anaheim, Calif., where it lost in overtime to Wisconsin. Sean Miller’s team finished 33-5.
— Allonzo Trier, a freshman who was Arizona’s leading scorer (14.8 points a game) and most dangerous scoring threat on the perimeter, broke his right hand during Arizona’s four-overtime loss at USC on Jan. 9, 2016. He did not return until Feb. 6 of that year. Trier 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. The Wildcats were 13-3 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-12 at the time of his injury diagnosis. They would lose four of their last seven games that season, including a first-round defeat against Wichita State in the NCAA tournament.
— Redshirt freshman five-star recruit Ray Smith of Las Vegas suffered his third ACL tear — his second in his right knee — on Nov. 1, 2016, in an exhibition game, prompting him to announce his retirement from basketball. He redshirted his freshman season after suffering a torn ACL in preseason workouts. That followed a tear in his other knee before his senior year in high school. In a statement, Smith writes, “My father once told me that just because someone is a good basketball player doesn’t make them a good person. That the sport doesn’t define who we are only what we can do.”
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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.