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Pain of Not Playing Is Worse Than Injured Back for Pepperdine Cager

January 15, 1987|DAVID MORGAN

Every morning for the past two months, Marty Wilson has climbed out of bed, knowing he wouldn't be playing basketball that day.

The pain in his back, caused by a pair of protruding discs in his spine, makes it hard for him to bend over and put on a pair of socks. Or tie his shoelaces.

Yet every afternoon, he walks from his dorm room to Firestone Fieldhouse on the Pepperdine campus in Malibu for basketball. There, the pain is even greater.

The 6-5 junior is a reluctant spectator as his Pepperdine teammates prepare for another game.

"It's frustrating to sit and watch the guys practice," he said. "I'm not the kind of guy who wants to just sit and watch. Not to be out there, especially in the games, really hurts."

Wilson figured to be Pepperdine's starting point guard this season. The former Ventura County Player of the Year from Simi Valley High was the only experienced backcourt player returning for the Waves.

"This was his time to play," Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick said.

Last Monday, Wilson told Harrick he would like to redshirt, which would give him two more years of eligibility. Harrick would still like Wilson back this season if at all possible.

"I want to do what's best for Marty, but the team comes first," he said. "If he can come back and help us, we want him back in there.

"Marty has some experience, and that is the key factor we're missing. Plus he's a marvelous defender, a good rebounder, he's mentally tough and a team leader. Those are things we desperately need on this team."

A final decision on Wilson's status will be made this week after further tests have been taken.

Wilson first noticed the back pain after an aerobic workout Oct. 14, the day before practices began. Eager to get his junior season under way, he continued his aerobics and weight-training.

Three weeks later, Wilson scored 11 points in the first half of an intrasquad scrimmage. But during intermission, he felt his back tighten up. He played in the second half, but hasn't practiced or played since.

X-rays showed the displaced discs in Wilson's spine. The injury does not require surgery, so his only option was rehabilitation.

Instead of practicing, Wilson would spend his afternoons stretching, sitting in the jacuzzi and hanging upside down from an inverted bar, therapy meant to relieve pressure on the spine. The original prognosis for full recovery was three to six weeks.

That was nine weeks ago.

"I didn't think he'd be out this long, and I don't think Marty did either," Harrick said. "We all anticipated him coming right back."

Wilson might not be back at all. He has already missed 14 games, and even if he were to get immediate medical clearance to play, he said it would take him two weeks to get into shape. By that time, Pepperdine will have played five more games.

And Wilson said his back isn't getting much better.

"I'm doing as much therapy as I can, and it seems to get better every once in a while," he said. "I thought it was better once when I was at home. I went out to a playground to test it out, and I was jumping for a while. Then I jumped too high and it tightened back up. I don't want to push it too soon again."

The program that was 48-14 with Wilson on the bench the past two years is 4-10 with him in the stands. Because of Wilson's injury and graduation, Pepperdine has lost its top four guards from last season--and it shows. The Waves are averaging four more turnovers a game than they did last season.

Wilson, who played only eight minutes a game for two seasons, is a veteran compared to Pepperdine's other guards. Jim Harrick Jr., the coach's son, is the only other guard with major college experience, and he only recently has played much. The other guards are a pair of community college transfers and a redshirt freshman.

"Our whole offense is dictated by where the guard goes," Harrick said. "There are a tremendous amount of decisions to make, and we're asking a lot of young kids to do that.

"I know Marty hasn't played a lot of minutes for us, but I've seen him in practice enough to know some of the things he would give us. I know he'd make us a better team."

Said Harrick Jr., who played at Newbury Park High: "It's not our inexperience as much as it is we haven't played together. Marty knows where people like to get the ball. We want him to come back, but we can't wait for him."

Forward Eric White, the team's only senior and leading scorer, doesn't expect to see Wilson back this year.

"I'm concerned for him," White said. "He was our only experienced guard, and when he went out, it was a letdown for everyone. But it isn't his fault. If he doesn't come back soon, I don't think he should come back at all this season. He could waste a year of his eligibility if he isn't better."

Harrick doesn't want to jeopardize Wilson's health, but he believes the 6-5 floor leader could make an impact. With the West Coast Athletic Conference holding a postseason tournament for the first time this year, Harrick said Wilson still has time to make a final decision.

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