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Gophers senior point guard Al Nolen

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Nolen will undergo surgery on broken foot

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF
  • Star Tribune
  • January 25, 2011 - 2:42 PM

Snow fell somewhere in Minnesota. Traffic jams clogged metro highways during the morning commute. And the Gophers men's basketball team announced troubling news on a Monday in January.

Since New Year's Day, it has become the norm for the Gophers to begin the work week with a crisis.

Two days after his team won at Michigan for its first conference road victory of the season, Gophers coach Tubby Smith revealed senior point guard and co-captain Al Nolen suffered a broken right foot during that game. He will have surgery Wednesday to have a "pin put in his foot," Smith said, adding that Nolen will miss an undetermined amount of time -- and it's possible he won't return.

"We got some unfortunate news [Sunday] that Al Nolen broke his foot," Smith said during the Big Ten's weekly media teleconference Monday. "We're not sure how long he'll be out, whether it's four weeks or whether he'll be back before the end of the season. But that's a real blow to us."

On Jan. 3, the first Monday of 2011, Devoe Joseph met with Smith and divulged his plans to transfer. Smith hoped to persuade the junior to stay, but a week later, on Jan. 10, Joseph enrolled in classes at Oregon.

Jan. 10 also was the Monday that Trevor Mbakwe was arrested for allegedly violating a harassment restraining order. His next court date is two Mondays from now, Feb. 7.

The team's latest Monday nightmare began after Nolen landed awkwardly on his foot in the first half Saturday against the Wolverines. He didn't play the rest of the game.

Smith said he's not sure Nolen will return but didn't rule out the possibility.

"I don't think you know anything until all the surgeries take place," he said. "And then, it's a matter of how it heals. I don't think anyone can speculate on that, not even doctors."

Nolen's father, Al Nolen Sr., said he expects his son to do everything possible to play again this season. "I can tell you this, he's a gutsy kid. Knowing that, he'll want to finish out," he said.

This is not an unfamiliar scenario for the Gophers. But when Nolen missed the second half of the 2009-10 season because of academic issues and five games this season because of a stress fracture in the same foot he broke Saturday, they had Joseph.

The combo guard helped the Gophers earn their second consecutive NCAA tournament bid as the starting point guard down the stretch last season.

Joseph was suspended indefinitely to start this season, a suspension that ended after six games just as Nolen's five-game layoff began.

Now that Joseph is gone, however, the Gophers will use Blake Hoffarber and freshman Maverick Ahanmisi at point guard. Freshman Chip Armelin will help, too.

The Gophers will have only eight scholarship players when they play Northwestern on Wednesday at Williams Arena. In addition to Nolen's injury and Joseph's departure, freshman big man Mo Walker was lost for the season after tearing a knee ligament Dec. 23.

Ahanmisi is the only true point guard remaining on a thin roster. Armelin is essentially a scoring guard, but Smith said the Gophers will utilize his ballhandling, too; in limited time, he has turned the ball over once in the past eight games.

Smith said the first-year players will have to grow up quickly. Playing them throughout the season will help them make the adjustment, he said. Both Ahanmisi and Armelin stepped up in Nolen's absence Saturday.

"It's because we've allowed them to play early. They're going to carry a bigger role now," he said. "The expectation's going to rise because without Al Nolen, we're going to need more, better ballhandling. And they can help us in that area."

Nolen played through his stress fracture at the start of this season before missing a month. In early December, doctors considered surgery, but Nolen said he opted against the procedure.

Smith said that call was "mutual," as the team's medical staff also provided input. Monday, he suggested that it wasn't the right decision.

"It's a misstep and it cost us. Cost him," Smith said.

• The Gophers (15-4, 4-3 Big Ten) fell one spot in the latest Associated Press poll to 16th on Monday, even though they won their only game last week. In the previous poll, the Gophers went from unranked to 15th.

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