The news that Gophers power forward Eric Curry suffered another major injury this week devastated the university’s basketball community. Fans and some former teammates showered support Tuesday on social media.
The progress Curry made toward being ready to play this year after two injury-plagued seasons ended after he suffered a severe right knee injury in practice, team sources told the Star Tribune.
“Shed a tear this morning when I got the news,” former Gophers guard Nate Mason said. “Seems unreal, gave me goose bumps. Lil bro keep your head high. God has a plan for you.”
Former Gophers star Amir Coffey, who was part of Curry’s 2016 recruiting class, wrote that hearing about the injury “hurt me to my core,” but that “this isn’t the end.”
Curry’s role going into the 2019-20 season was uncertain because of his past injuries, but he was getting closer to returning to form. His minutes were increasing with full contact since the first official practice in late September.
Coach Richard Pitino thought the 6-9, 240-pound redshirt junior could be an important piece to help a team filled with newcomers come together while adopting a new offensive style.
“Obviously, he’s dealt with a lot of injuries,” Pitino said at Big Ten Media Day last week. “He’s been really, really important to our team from a depth standpoint.”
Pitino’s plans must now shift to playing without Curry, who’s out indefinitely.
Curry would’ve been the first option off the bench at both power forward and center. He also checked several boxes when it came to what the Gophers lack: Experience, versatility and leadership.
The latter is something Curry has provided despite missing a total of 53 games the past two seasons. He mentored starting center Daniel Oturu last year while missing the first 12 games following arthroscopic surgery on his previously injured left knee.
Curry helped inspire the Gophers as they reached the NCAA tournament after his season was cut short in February by surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right foot.
What the Gophers will miss most is his experience of being the only player on Minnesota’s roster that was a major contributor on their NCAA tourney team in 2017. They will miss his ability to stretch the floor and step out of the paint to defend the pick-and-roll.
Curry’s original left-knee injury two years ago caused him to miss the 2017-18 season when he tore multiple ligaments and his meniscus. Pitino had an idea before Curry’s injury to implement an offense similar to what John Beilein ran at Michigan that takes advantage of big men who were good outside shooters.
Curry had been working tirelessly since his freshman year to extend his range to the three-point line, but the Gophers had no other players like him when he was done for the year.
Fast forward to 2019, Curry sank five straight threes during a drill in the first official practice of the season. Pitino hoped to finally get a chance to make use of Curry’s skills, but now he’s gone again.
At power forward, the Gophers return sophomore Jarvis Omersa and senior Michael Hurt, who both have been working hard to improve their outside shooting.
Drexel transfer Alihan Demir is a versatile 6-9 senior who will fill All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy’s spot as a starter. Demir doesn’t rebound like Murphy, nobody does, but he’s more of a perimeter threat.
Freshman Sam Freeman, a physical presence at 6-10 and 240, must be ready sooner than planned as a backup center for Oturu, who also will need to mature into a leader quicker than expected with Curry sidelined.