Jan. 29, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Suffering an injury which holds a student-athlete out of competition is a college basketball player's worst nightmare. Unfortunately, it happens to athletes around the country each year. University of Michigan men's basketball forward Jon Horford knows all too well what it's like watching his team from the sidelines and doing workouts in the training room instead of the gym.
Although injuries can be one of the most challenging things an athlete will overcome throughout their career, it is often how an athlete copes with an injury that defines their character.
During Michigan's preseason, Horford went down in practice with a knee injury that held him out of several practices and workouts. He returned in time to play in Michigan's season opener, but he was getting limited minutes as a result of missing so much valuable practice time.
With the help of his teammates and coaches, as well as athletic trainer John DoRosario and strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson, Horford returned to full strength and was earning double-digit minutes on the court. In Michigan's win over Kansas State in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off, Horford recorded six points, three rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes.
Six games later, in Michigan's matchup with West Virginia at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., the unthinkable happened -- Horford went crashing to the hardwood, holding the same knee that held him out of just months before. So back to the training room he went, working tirelessly each day to get healthy once again.
Although Horford was not seeing time on the floor, some things about him never changed throughout the duration of his injury. His positive demeanor, incredible work ethic and desire to be a great teammate were unwavering. Horford was still one of the first guys to arrive at the William Davidson Player Development Center each day and attended every practice and game with the same question in mind, 'What can I do today to help this team?'
After missing five games, including Michigan's first three Big Ten matchups, Horford returned to the lineup at Ohio State, seeing two minutes of action. As he continued to regain his comfort level with the physicality of the Big Ten Conference, his time on the court began to increase.
Horford contributed to the Wolverines' victory over Purdue, playing eight minutes, and helped limit the Boilermakers to just 20 points in the second half.
Things were looking bright once again for Horford and the team seemed whole again. However, just two minutes into Michigan's road contest at Illinois, injury struck the Wolverines again. But this time it was not Horford -- it was starting forward Jordan Morgan, who left the game for good with a sprained right ankle, calling for Michigan's other big men to step up. Three of the Wolverines' big men came off the bench and immediately answered the call. Horford, Max Bielfeldt and Mitch McGary combined for 13 points and 14 rebounds to help lead U-M past Illinois on the road.
Horford, as well as Bielfeldt, who missed four games earlier in the season with a sprained ankle, knew exactly what Morgan was going through and wanted to step up for their injured teammate and for the entire team.
With a stretch of five games in 14 days up next on the docket for the Wolverines, starting tomorrow with Northwestern, their big men will need to embrace that 'next man up' mentality now more than ever.
Prior to hosting the Wildcats, the Wolverines held a media roundtable on Tuesday (Jan. 29). In addition to Coach Beilein, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III speaking with the media, Jon Horford sat down for a brief interview.
U-M Junior/Sophomore Forward Jon Horford
On overcoming multiple injuries this year ... "The way I see it, it's just a natural part of life, and there are going to be times when things go your way and times when they aren't. You just have to deal with it and it helps when you have the support of your teammates and the entire staff. It makes all the difference with something like that."
On being healthy and getting back into the rotation ... "It's always a good feeling when you can go out there and contribute to wins and help your team out in whatever way is necessary. That's what I always tell coach (Beilein), it doesn't matter what it is, I'm just trying to contribute to the team in whatever way I can."
On being able to step up after Jordan Morgan got injured at Illinois ... "It's always hard watching someone go down, especially when you've experience it before, and you know what they're going through physically and mentally. We want Jordan (Morgan) to take his time and come back when he's ready and not rush anything because that's when you get reoccurring injuries. I feel like we have a lot of capable bigs on the team, and everyone is ready to contribute and can contribute in their own way."
On the team having a 'next man up' mentality ... "It makes the biggest difference in the world. I remember in the summer coming in, I really tried to stress the importance of roles and everyone accepting their roles because that's crucial. Not everyone can play and sometimes roles change. Some days they'll need you for some things, and other days they won't. Everyone on this team has done a great job of accepting their role, whether it is coming in to play two minutes, 35 minutes or sitting on the bench and supporting the team. In that regard, I feel like everyone has an important part to play."
On the benefit of seeing a conference opponent the second time around ... "It makes a big different when you've played against someone, and you've seen the film a million times. You know their tendencies, and that doesn't make them predictable at all, but you know what they prefer to do, and that helps you with your game plan. On the other end, they also have your stuff, so you know it's going to come down to who wants it more in the end."
On what he learned while he was out with his injury ... "You learn a lot on the mental and visual side. You get to see all that stuff and take everything in; you just don't get to physically experience it. I feel that the information I picked up earlier in the year will be really valuable now. And it's easier when you have guys who are as skilled as they guys on this team and work as hard as they do because even if you're lacking in some area, or they're lacking in some area, everyone is able to pick each other up."
Contact: Tom Wywrot, Whitney Dixon (734) 763-4423