Thursday, November 26, 2009
Lamar senior returns after missing last season with injuries
By CHRISTOPHER DABE
Like a parent who knows when a child lies, Lamar University men’s basketball coach Steve Roccaforte looks at his players for a telling expression.
In the case of senior forward Justin Nabors, Roccaforte keeps a closer eye on him than any other player.
“He’s the type of guy who won’t tell the truth,” Roccaforte said. “When he’s hurt, he won’t tell you. When he needs a break, he won’t tell you. He just wants to be out there every minute of every practice and every game.”
As noble as Nabors’ persistence might seem, Roccaforte’s greater interest is to keep his prized 6-foot-7 forward healthy this season. Nabors, a fifth-year college player in his third year at LU, missed last season with a dislocated right elbow and compound right lower-leg fracture suffered in a pickup basketball game at the Montagne Center before last season.
The losses of Nabors and a season-costing knee injury to another senior forward, Lawrence Nwevo, proved a severe blow to an LU team last season that turned in its worst Southland Conference performance since 2004. Nabors and Nwevo’s injuries were just a few among several to various LU players in a season when the team labored to 15-15 overall and 6-10 Southland records.
“Sitting on the bench and not being able to help my teammates, that was one of the hardest things I ever had to do besides going through (physical) therapy and getting back to where I am now,” said Nabors, among six returning players with Nwevo.
Although LU coaches claim no starting spots are determined, Nabors is thought to be the team’s starting power forward. That’s the position he would have held last season were it not for the injuries, Roccaforte said.
No returning player has averaged more points (11.2) and rebounds (6.4) through a full NCAA Division I season than Nabors did in 2007-08, his first at the school after he transferred from Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Nabors possessed what he called a “bouncy” style of play before the injury, when he ranked third in the conference with 90 offensive rebounds. Admittedly less bouncy now, Nabors said his game will be more horizontal than vertical. He claims to be an improved ball-handler, so he’ll dribble his way to the basket in some occasions when he would have leapt and bound.
“I loved to jump,” Nabors said. “That’s something I used to my advantage. The injury basically made me work on my dribbling skills to get to the hole instead of relying on my ability to jump.”
Nabors recalls virtually every detail about how he sustained his injuries. He jumped about four inches off the floor for a jump shot from the right of the free throw line but instead passed the ball to his right, he said. The two bones in his lower right leg cracked when he landed, he fell backward, braced his arms behind him to break the fall but dislocated his right elbow in the process.
“I remember everything about it,” said Nabors, who recalled the time as 3:33 p.m. that day, Aug. 23, 2008.
With Nabors’ elbow put back in place later that day, doctors inserted a titanium rod and three screws -- one near his kneecap and two near his ankle -- the next day.
Nabors’ weight dropped from 207 at the time of the injury to 189 when he began his rehabilitation several weeks later. He returned to practice in mid-January but was not close to game shape, unable push off with his right leg for a left-handed layup or dunk.
Nabors rebuilt his body during the summer, when he bulked up to 215 pounds.
Now back on the court and weighing about 210 pounds, Nabors claims his improved dribbling makes him a more versatile player. He’ll occasionally play small forward and can play shooting guard, he said. There will also be sequences when he’ll push the ball up court on fast break situations, allowing him to dribble and pass in the open court.
Sophomore point guard Anthony Miles said Nabors brings a toughness to the team that was lacking at times after Nabors’ injury last season.
“I can’t wait to see him bang,” Miles said in reference to Nabors’ strong play under the basket.
No matter how well Nabors plays, Roccaforte will keep a parental eye on him. He’ll measure Nabors’ on-court doses carefully to make sure he does not overextend himself. Roccaforte said Nabors occasionally gets upset if taken out of a practice or scrimmage.
Nabors just said he’s trying to make up for lost time.
“I’m the kind of guy that just likes to play,” Nabors said. “I love the game. Despite my pain, I still try to push myself forward. Roc always tries to pull me out. This is my last season. Every second I miss, I feel like I should be in there. I’m stubborn. I’m hardheaded.”
Roccaforte said he can tell when Nabors needs a rest regardless of if he’ll admit to that.
“When he’s hurting I can tell,” Roccaforte said. “If you’re asking, ‘Could I tell his junior year?’ No. ‘Could I tell last year, his senior year?’ Yes. Can I tell now? Yes. Because I know him.”
The goal for Roccaforte is to keep Nabors on the floor for as many effective minutes as possible.
“I just have to keep an eye on him,” Roccaforte said. “He broke his leg. ... He dislocated his elbow. He’s had a bad shoulder for two years. Those things haven’t changed. But whether he’s a hundred percent, 75 percent, 80 percent, having him out there means more than anything else because he’s a vocal leader as well as a very good player.”
Copyright 2009, The Beaumont Enterprise. Reprinted with permission.
Nabors played for coach Naylond Hayes at Holly Springs High School and helped lead the Hawks to back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005.
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