Eric Curry had the Arkansas road game marked on his calendar since he arrived on the University of Minnesota campus last year. It was going to be an opportunity to return to the state where he attended high school and play once again in front of family and friends.
But Saturday’s game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville will be another game, like the first 10 this season, where the No. 14 Gophers have tried to make up for the significant loss of their talented sophomore big man.
Curry’s season-ending knee injury suffered in the summer took away the Gophers’ top reserve and backup post who scores, defends and does all the little things that helps teams win.
The Memphis native who attended Southwest Christian Academy in Little Rock would love to be facing an Arkansas program he knows well after taking a visit there in high school. But all he can do this weekend is cheer from the bench and hope the Gophers can bounce back from a tough loss Tuesday at Nebraska.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Curry said. “I know most of my family and friends are going to be there to watch us play. It’s a good game for our team, because the Arkansas team is very good, especially at home. It’s going to be a really big road test for us and a good game to bounce back from after losing to Nebraska.”
Arguably the best frontcourt tandem in the Big Ten, Gophers power forward Jordan Murphy and center Reggie Lynch were double-teamed by the Cornhuskers and combined for only 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting with eight turnovers.
The 6-9 Curry backed them up last season and made a significant impact when either one struggled or got into foul trouble. He led the team in overtime scoring during a victory at Purdue and made key defensive stops and grabbed crucial rebounds in wins over Indiana and Iowa.
Over the summer, coach Richard Pitino said Murphy and Curry were two of the team’s most improved players. Murphy is an early All-America candidate. The Gophers can only imagine what type of season Curry might have had.
“Nobody wants to hear it,” Pitino said Friday, “but losing Eric Curry really, really hurt us. It’s going to take time to make up for that.”
In late August, Curry was playing a pickup game with teammates when he landed awkwardly and suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus in his left knee.
Sitting out has been hard. But Gophers staff, teammates and family have kept Curry’s spirits high. Curry said he is working on gaining strength back and does rehab daily.
“Everybody’s been real good keeping my head up, keeping my head straight and making me stay focused,” Curry said. “Just telling me everything is going to be better next year.”
After suffering two losses in the past three games, Curry has been encouraging teammates, especially the two players trying to fill his role, Davonte Fitzgerald and Michael Hurt.
“I just try to keep their head up and tell them the little things I did for the team,” Curry said. “As I’m watching the games, I try to give them advice on what can help them and just focusing on the defensive end. If you take care of things on the defensive end and don’t worry about anything else but getting rebounds and loose balls, doing the little things really helps out a lot.”
When Curry sees his folks Saturday, they likely will tell him not to feel down and that he will have a big season next year. But Curry doesn’t want his injury to keep the Gophers from reaching their goals this season.
“We have all the pieces,” he said. “We just have to get a couple more guys to step up. And we’ll be fine.”