Amir Coffey knew where he wanted to go with the ball Saturday. He had a good feeling about how to play with his teammates.
But the mental part is one thing — being back to 100 percent physically is another.
Things were just a little off when Coffey returned after a five-game absence because of a right shoulder injury. The 6-8 Gophers sophomore guard is still working back into shape.
Coffey practiced just once before playing 35 minutes in Saturday’s 67-49 loss to Ohio State in New York. And now he is being kept out of practice, along with junior guard Dupree McBrayer (leg), for precautionary reasons.
“I think with Amir, once some time passes, he’ll get in better shape and be able to help,” coach Richard Pitino said Monday. “I thought he just gutted it out and played as well as he could.”
The Gophers, who play Northwestern on Tuesday night at Williams Arena, were 1-4 without Coffey and suspended center Reggie Lynch. They lost again with Coffey back over the weekend, but his sooner-than-expected return gives the team hope to turn things around this season, especially if Coffey, McBrayer and All-Big Ten senior point guard Nate Mason can play well together again.
Coffey had 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting with two assists and three turnovers Saturday. In his nine games before being sidelined, the Hopkins product averaged 15.4 points, 4.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds. The Gophers are 10-0 this season when Coffey has at least three assists in a game.
“He’s just got to get back and acclimated to things,” McBrayer said. “He was out for a while. He played his heart out off one practice. As soon as we get back into the flow of things, you should see some of the things he was doing before.”
In a Jan. 3 victory over Illinois, Coffey hurt his shoulder. It eventually was diagnosed as a humeral avulsion glenohumeral ligament (HAGL) lesion, which is a ligament tear near the front of the shoulder.
The estimated timeline for recovery was initially six to eight weeks, which would have had him back some time in February. Coffey said his timetable changed after making fast progress in rehab.
“It’s been tough doing physical therapy all day,” he said. “Last couple weeks really, I’ve been running and trying to get my wind back. It’s been a lot. It was kind of a weird injury. I just had to battle through it.”
It was a day-to-day process. Before the East Coast trip, Coffey said he still heard he would be out about two more weeks. But the doctor flew out to New York to clear him Friday.
“It was just going by feel,” he said. “It was [Friday] when I said I wanted to practice because it felt good. I tried it out and that’s why I played.”
Coffey is lefthanded, so the injury doesn’t affect his shooting shoulder. He wore heavy tape on his right shoulder Saturday, though. He was a little timid, trying not to do too much with his bad shoulder, he said.
So how might the Gophers make a run with Coffey back in the flow?
“It has to come on the defensive end,” he said. “We have to take pride in defensive stops and rebounding. We’ve just got to compete. These losses that we had are not us. These 20-point wins by the other team are not us. It really just comes down to competing on defense, getting rebounds, loose balls and all the little things.”