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Harbour Hoping to Rebound : Stanford Guard Loses His Thumb in Accident, Not His Drive


STANFORD — "Here," David Harbour said, slowly unraveling a bandage, "let me show you my thumb."

Harbour is sitting in the stands in a nearly empty Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus. Below, on the court, the struggling, injury-plagued Stanford basketball team is finishing another practice in what rapidly has become a forgettable season.

But Harbour, who is left-handed, unwinds the bandage on his right thumb and displays what has prevented him from giving the Cardinal some much-needed help this season.

The thumb doesn't look much like a thumb. It looks more like a quilt of human skin, molded to vaguely resemble a thumb. There is no knuckle. No fingernail. If anything, it looks more like a swollen big toe than a finger.

Harbour is pointing to different parts of the thumb.

"They took a bone out of my hip and put it in there," he said, pointing.

"And then they--see? That's my toe right there," he said, again pointing at the thumb. "They took a portion of the inside of my (left big toe) and they put it on there."

Harbour is almost finished pointing. "The rest of the skin came from the hip," he said, pulling up his Stanford practice jersey. "See?" he said, pointing to a foot-long scar curling up the side of his body. "It's kind of nasty."

Harbour tucks in his shirt and immediately begins talking about starting at guard as a redshirt sophomore on next season's team.

That's Harbour's way. Anyone who remembers the All-Ventura County and All-Southern Section guard who played at Camarillo High from 1988 to 1991 remembers a feisty, aggressive player who never met a loose ball he didn't like. So why change now after one little accident?

In July, 1992, Harbour was water-skiing with his girlfriend's family at Bass Lake near Yosemite National Park when his right thumb got wrapped up in the tow rope and was yanked off. Not just a portion of the thumb. Most of the thumb: bone, nerves and blood vessels.

"When I lost my thumb, my first thought was, 'I'll never be able to play again,' " Harbour said. "That's all I was really concerned about.

"And then I thought, 'Thank God it's my off-hand.' I was totally focused on how it would affect basketball."

It was the beginning of an arduous journey back. Harbour underwent a surgery in which the thumb literally was sewn to his right hip. It remained that way for four weeks while grafted skin slowly took.

Harbour's family vacationed in San Diego for three weeks after his surgery, and while there the 20-year-old led a confined lifestyle.

"I felt like I was in prison," he said. "It was definitely a tough time."

When the thumb was surgically separated from his side, an unsightly spheroid of tissue had grown on it.

With a large bandage over the thumb, Harbour was back on the court a week later. Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery saddled him with the nickname "Nine," and by fall he was shooting the left-handed jumper.

But Harbour needed additional surgery, and with two senior guards on this season's Stanford team, a redshirt year started to make a lot of sense to Harbour and Montgomery.

So Harbour redshirted and on Dec. 18 underwent a third surgery. It was during this procedure that most of Harbour's toe--skin and nerve endings from the instep--and parts of his hip--skin and bone--made their way north to his thumb, producing the reconstructed, quasi-bionic thumb that Harbour is showing off in Maples Pavilion on this day.

"Next year, I won't put anything on it," Harbour said, re-wrapping his bandage.

"Next year" is a popular phrase with the Stanford basketball team this season, the graduation of All-American Adam Keefe leaving a bigger void than almost anybody figured. At 6-17 and 1-10 in Pacific 10 Conference play heading into this afternoon's game against USC, Stanford is on the way to its worst season in Montgomery's seven years.

Montgomery points to numerous injuries that have hurt his team this year, and Harbour's is one of them. While he probably would not have started, Harbour could have expanded on his contributions during his freshman year when he averaged five minutes a game on an NCAA tournament team and impressed the Stanford coaches with his all-out style of play.

"Dave was a kid that was always able to pick us up a little bit because if there's a loose ball, there may be any number of different people on that ball but you can always guarantee that Harbour will be one of them," Montgomery said.

The redshirt year affords Harbour, an industrial engineering major, time to master his schoolwork and spend hours in the weight room. Meanwhile, his nerve endings are slowly growing and he should have feeling in the thumb by next fall.

With freshman off-guard Dion Cross impressing Stanford coaches, Harbour said he might move to point guard to fight for a starting position. He also said his game will be unaffected by the injury.

"I've already been dribbling around a bit," Harbour said. "I don't know what . . . pushes me, but I have this inner confidence that next year I'm going to help the team a lot."

Below him, on the Maples court, a Stanford team that sorely needs a spark of energy is busy shooting free throws, waiting for brighter days. Harbour leans back in his seat and talks about practicing full time with the team in the next two weeks.

He could be a trendsetter.

"Of all the injuries we've had this year, it looks like Dave is going to be the first one back on the court," Montgomery said. "And probably the first guy on the floor after a loose ball."

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