It’s been close to one year since Florida senior center John Egbunu went down with a season-ending torn ACL injury on Feb. 14, 2017 at Auburn.
There was hope that the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Egbunu would be back on the court by now, helping shore up UF’s deficiencies in rebounding, post defense and inside scoring. Due to recent setbacks during the rehabilitation process, however, Egbunu has yet to be cleared for contact practices, let alone games. Egbunu did not travel to UF’s game at South Carolina because of concerns over knee swelling while flying and hasn’t worked out before a game since Jan. 27 against Baylor.
Florida men’s basketball trainer Dave Werner still holds out hope that Egbunu could still return before the end of the season, but admits he could need a second procedure on the surgically repaired knee either before or at the end of the season.
“We started throwing him into non-contact practices in January hoping to do that for two weeks, and then go into contact practices to where he could play the first week in February,” Werner said. “But we were never able to get to the contact part of it because the more we did non-contact stuff, his knees would swell. And with the swelling, people start getting some pain, so we weren’t able to progress him to that next step.”
The root of Egbunu’s swelling stems from patellofemoral syndrome issues.
“You have some cartilage under the kneecap, so it glides and it has got some spots under there, some problems underneath there, when he tore his ACL, that they tried to clean up but in the rehab process it started to get irritated,” Werner said. “And that’s why his knee swelled up.”
At this point, Egbunu hasn’t decided yet whether to undergo the second surgical procedure or continue to try to rehab before the end of the season.
“He’s done everything, no question about it,” Werner said. “He never missed a rehabilitation appointment. He was never late. He did everything we asked. He was with our physical therapist, Lisa Tillman, at UF Health for six months, worked his tail off. The fact that John is not back has nothing to do with John not giving a good effort.”
Egbunu’s surgery was performed in early March by Florida team orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Farmer. In addition to repairing the torn ACL, Egbunu had some issues in the medial meniscus of his same knee that needed to be fixed.
For the first four months, Werner said the goal was to strengthen the surgically repaired knee and restore range of motion. Egbunu began jogging on an anti-gravity treadmill at 60 percent body weight over the summer and began straight line running on the court in September.
Werner said there were some minor setbacks when Egbunu tried to go through cutting drills later in the fall.
“He did experience some swelling in his knee so we would have to back off for a couple of days, rest,” Werner said.
Eventually, though, Egbunu was able to progress to individual workouts, then non-contact practices, before his latest setback.
Werner had been UF’s basketball trainer since 2004 and has overseen a number of successful ACL rehabs, including former forward DeVon Walker, who sat out UF’s 2014-15 season before returning in 2015-16. But Werner said rehabs can be trickier with bigger forwards and centers.
“DeVon was 6-foot-6, 190 pounds and there’s a big difference between that and John, who is a 6-11, 270-pound guy, the stress that you put on it,” Werner said.
Another factor in play is Egbunu’s professional basketball aspirations, either in the NBA or overseas. Last season, Egbunu put his name in the NBA draft, but opted to return as a fifth-year senior and start graduate school at UF.
“It’s his future,” Werner said. “But he may decide if he’s in a position where he knows his knee can no longer be damaged and can progress in his rehab, he can try to come back and help us.”
Who: Georgia (13-11, 4-8) vs. Florida (17-8, 8-4)
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850