Sunday’s loss at Rutgers was one of those games when Gophers basketball fans wish they had Eric Curry healthy to bolster the frontcourt.
Curry sat on the bench in New Jersey supporting his teammates and coaches over the weekend, but he’s still recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in October.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound junior has had several injury setbacks since his freshman year. But Curry says he’s on track to return healthy next season – and remains optimistic about what the Gophers can accomplish without him this year.
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune recently, Curry talked about different topics from his recovery to losing weight, Daniel Oturu’s emergence and how he helps Richard Pitino and the coaching staff.
Q: How has your rehab process been since the knee surgery in the fall?
A: My rehab is doing fine. It’s been totally different than my other knee (left knee was previously hurt). I only tore my ACL in this one, so recovery is probably quicker and faster with this one (timetable for return is this summer). Swelling went down after like a week. I’m progressing really quick and really fast and it doesn’t bother me at all.
Q: How have you stayed so positive after having multiple injuries the last few years?
A: Every time I get hurt, my mom travels up here to take care of me for a week when I can’t move around as much. She’s always sent me motivational messages to keep my head on straight. Every morning. She still believes in me and that’s all that really matters. That’s great support. I love her for that.
Q: How do you hope to help the team when you come back next year?
A: Same thing I’ve been doing the last two years. Bring experience. Just being a leader and help get the team through adversity. We won’t have a lot of seniors next year, but all of us will try to contribute to make us even better. I always pride myself on being smart and intelligent, having a high basketball IQ. I think that’s improved a lot. I’ve seen it from both sides now. I’m always around [Coach Pitino] and talking basketball. We talk about what he can do to help the team. Just knowing from his perspective and what he wants helps.
Q: How do you help Pitino specifically?
A: He always comes to me and asks me how to get guys going when they’re struggling. I basically just talk to him about situations to help them flourish. Stuff like that.
Q: Were you worried about the frontcourt having enough depth with you gone and Jordan Murphy graduating?
A: One of my biggest [frustrations] is trying to bring my injury up as a downfall of the team. People didn’t understand that [Oturu] was a phenomenal player. Now you all see it, night in and night out. This team can win without anybody. The next man just steps up. Of course, I’m a big part of the team, but those guys can handle it all. They’re showing the country they can.
Q: Did you see Oturu having this type of breakout sophomore season?
A: I knew Daniel could be really, really good. If he just did the simple things. We tell him all of the time to shoot a hook, because he goes into a lot of opponent’s bodies. If he just simplified his game and played even harder than he is it will take his game to whole new level. That’s crazy, because he’s already doing phenomenal things now. There are a lot of good bigs in this league, but I think Daniel is the best one.
Q: When you got hurt again that put a lot of pressure on senior Alihan Demir. How do you think he’s handled it?
A: Well, Alihan we knew he would have a tough time a little bit at first playing high-major [basketball]. We weren’t on him too hard at the beginning of the season. We knew he would come around. We told him we know what he’s capable of and to just play basketball. I think he’s finally doing that. Everything is off his shoulders now.
Q: Your former Arkansas Wings AAU teammate and fellow Gopher Payton Willis was out with an ankle injury for a few games. How did you help him get back on the court?
A: That’s been my guy since we were younger. I know what he’s capable of, too. His ankle is still bothering him. Of course, he’s going to fight through it for the team. I tell him to keep his head on straight and don’t get too down on yourself. I played through it last year when my knee wasn’t 100 percent. You just have to do whatever you can for the team.
Q: Did you regret playing too soon last year after the previous knee injury?
A: I don’t have any regrets. I did what I could. I wasn’t 100 percent, but I didn’t want to sit down. I could play. If I can play, I want to play.
Q: What have you been doing differently this time around to get healthy?
A: I got with a nutritionist a couple months ago after I could start moving and exercising again. I basically sat down, and we talked about maybe a reason why I’m going through all these ligament tears. I gained too much weight. So, it was about getting leaner and down to my freshman size. I want to keep my strength but cut down on my weight by eating the right things.
Q: How different is your diet now than before this latest injury?
A: The nutritionist said to stick to a routine. That’s the main thing. My biggest problem was late night snacks. I ate junk food. I really like Cheetos. I had to eat healthy snacks like smart popcorn, popcorn without butter and beef jerky. More protein gives me muscle mass. I have to cut down on carbs until I start running and playing basketball again.
Q: Do you have an ideal playing weight?
A: Right after surgery, I was probably 250. I want to cut it down to 235. After my freshman year summer, I gained a lot of weight, because they wanted me to [he laughs].
Q: What are your individual expectations for next season?
A: My goal for next year is to come back even stronger. I know I can overcome this injury like I did all of the other ones. Just have a phenomenal year next year. I want to go out the right way.