In news that unfortunately didn’t come as a surprise to anyone John Egbunu was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season as a result of nagging knee issues related to his devastating ACL injury suffered last year. Upon sustaining the injury during SEC play last year his return was tentatively scheduled for late-December to early-January though optimism for his return starting to fade as his expected return day continued to crawl further and further back until an expected date was finally taken off the table. One of the best defensive big men in the country, Egbunu used his gigantic 6’11”, 260 pound frame to patrol the paint and his shocking dexterity to switch out and lock down perimeter players. Though his redshirt-junior year stats of 7.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game don’t jump off the page his impact on the game was always felt on both ends. His astonishing leaping ability in addition to his God-given size bothered more shooters and made more shots miss due to intimidation than he blocked, and his wide torso set wipeout screens that lead to downhill driving lanes for Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza. A disappointed Egbunu spoke to media today to address the disheartening news.
“It’s been tough for me, because I want to help this team. I feel like a part of me, I don’t want to let the fans down. It’s disappointing for my teammates. I know it’s something that happens. It’s a part of life. I fully understand that there’s a journey. I will do whatever I can and everything in my power to make sure I’m playing again, and I feel like this is just a little roadblock for me, and I’m gonna overcome it, I’m confident in that. I’m definitely disappointed that I couldn’t play this year. It hurts me. It hurts me deep down that I couldn’t be here for my teammates, couldn’t be here for the fans, for the school. But you’ve just gotta take it one day at a time and that’s what I intend to do.
After watching last year’s team head to an Elite Eight without him and seeing them get a top-10 preseason rating this year his return was highly anticipated and expected to be the cherry on top of a team expected to be in the mix for a Final Four. Watching the highs of the PK 80 and the lows of the 3-game losing streaks couldn’t have been easy knowing he could have been of assistance if healthy.
With the initial procedure last year said to have gone well, what happened that lead him missing over a calendar year?
“Throughout the whole rehab process, roughly about three months in, I started having issues with swelling, and it’s just something I’ve battled all the way through. You know, I’ve had my knee drained like probably five times. I’ve had cortisone shots put in my knees. I feel like we’ve done everything we possibly can.” The swelling he referred to has been a constant issue that was regularly pointed out by Mike White when asked about Egbunu, and one that ultimately lead to Egbunu being ruled out. Not only did he have swelling in the injured knee but in the un-injured knee due to overcompensation once he started non-contact drills. A second procedure took place on February 12 administered by Dr. James Andrews and was supposed to have a three month recovery plan, though they put him on an accelerated recovery plan hoping he could still come back and play this season. That didn’t work, and now that he has been officially ruled out for this season he is on the normal three month recovery plan. “So far right now, I’m just back doing rehab again and I’m off for like three months. That’s kind of like the timeline right now.”
When asked about Egbunu’s impact on the Gators and the role he has had with the team, Mike White said “ He’s been a terrific Gator. It comes to mind, we’re playing Kentucky tomorrow at home. In another game against Kentucky at home he had nine dunks. The guy was amazing in that game. I thought last year he was one of the most underrated defenders in college basketball. His defensive numbers — computer numbers — were absolutely off the chart last year and really anchored what was a top-five defense in college basketball. He was an improving offensive player, of course. He’s been a great example for younger guys. Had absolutely zero issues with John off the floor. He’s been a good role model in the community. Absolutely hate it for him. He’s been awesome. Love him to death. He’s worked his butt off to do everything that he can, everything that’s been asked of him, he’s tried to do. It’s just a matter of soreness and swelling and he can’t go. He’s been ruled out but he’ll do his best to help these guys in other ways.
What are Egbunu’s options for basketball now? He could attempt to go pro, though the services of a big man whose game relies so much on athleticism coming off a major knee injury might not be sought after by many top clubs right now. Many leagues in Europe only have a certain number of roster spots available for American imports and wouldn’t want to use it on an injured player, and many of those leagues don’t have guaranteed contracts meaning they could cut Egbunu instantly if he had any further injuries. Would he be open to getting a medical redshirt and coming back to Florida as a 6th year senior?
“I mean, obviously. Right now I feel like I’d be doing a great injustice to the team if I’m kind of like worried about my future. Right now I’m really just trying to focus on helping these guys, just taking it one day at a time. When that time comes, I’ll figure out a decision and kind of like what I want to do and talk to the coaches about it and just go from there.”
The Gators currently don’t have a roster spot open for him should he and the coaching staff want him to return, but as we all know there is always movement that allows for the numbers to work out.
Both Mike White and John Egbunu confirmed that he will be honored on Senior Night and he will have some family in attendance to see the festivities.
When Egbunu was joked with the fact that if he came back for next season he could have two senior days:
“I know, right?”
Whether or not he returns John Egbunu has been a great Gator and we at Gator Country want to wish him all the best as he is honored as a senior on Saturday and as he continues his rehab.