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Changing of the Guard

After Knee Surgery, a January Return Is Most Likely Scenario


Baron Davis could be sidelined until January or later--possibly missing all of fall practice and more than a month of the 1998-99 schedule--after undergoing surgery next month to reconstruct his left knee, UCLA's team doctor said Tuesday.

Two days after suffering a tear in his left anterior-cruciate ligament, Davis hobbled to practice Tuesday wearing a large knee brace, dribbled impatiently behind a team defensive drill, and conceded that, even after hearing about the severity of the injury, he asked about Friday's South Regional game against Kentucky.

"Really, his first question was could he play on Friday," team doctor Gerald Finerman said of the explosive Bruin freshman guard. "And obviously, it's not up for discussion."

Davis, who suffered the injury while landing after a dunk during the first half of UCLA's victory over Michigan on Sunday, will fly to St. Petersburg, Fla., and be with the team for the duration of its tournament life.

After waiting a few weeks for the damage to "calm down," according to Finerman, Davis will undergo surgery to repair the damage sometime in April. Beyond that, Davis will walk with crutches for at least several weeks, wear a brace and begin rehabilitating the knee about a month after the operation.

And Finerman made it clear that, with such a serious injury, the prudent plan would be for Davis to skip all summer basketball and not return to action until well after the start of the season.

"I would sort of put it in my mind toward January," Finerman said, adding that it's possible Davis could wear a brace when he returns to action.

Davis said he figured there was a good chance he could make it back by the start of practice in October, but also said he would follow the doctor's orders all the way.

"Basketball means a lot to me and I love the game," Davis said. "If it takes six months, eight months, 10 months of rehab in order for me to get 100% to continue playing, that's what I'm going to have to do.

"I'm just going to work as hard as possible, and we'll see what happens."

Davis said the toughest part--beyond missing out on the Kentucky game and the rest of the tournament experience--would be staying away from the intense summer pick-up games at UCLA.

"A lot of things like that I'm going to miss out on," Davis said. "But I've got to make sacrifices if I'm going to become 100%. . . . There isn't anything you can do about it. You have to look forward to next year."

Meanwhile, both Davis and Finerman agreed that his reentry in the Michigan game in the second half after the injury neither created the tear nor worsened it.

Finerman examined Davis in the locker room during the game, noticed none of the swelling that would be a tell-tale sign of ligament damage, was told that Davis wasn't feeling a great deal of pain, and agreed to let Davis play.

Davis played five minutes in the second half, and didn't jump or push off with his left leg.

"No, not at all," Davis said when asked if going back in worsened the situation. "Because I wasn't pushing off of it, I wasn't exploding to the hole. . . . I didn't reaggravate it."

Said Finerman: "He very clearly wanted to go back in the game. And actually, we had a discussion, 'Baron, if you don't feel right you don't have to go in.'

"He wasn't having too much pain. He didn't swell at all, which is rather atypical for anterior-cruciate tears. They usually swell up very, very quickly, if not within minutes.

"Also, though no one could see it, when we took him back into the locker room, we did tape his knee underneath his sleeve. And, as one could see, he did limit what he did in terms of the game. So I really don't think that he's had any additional damage.'

Monday's magnetic-resonance imaging test also revealed a minor bone bruise, but no other significant damage beyond the ACL tear, Finerman said.

"We've obviously seen a whole lot worse," Finerman said. "In the sense that the MRI does not indicate significant associated injuries, that puts him into a better category--tendon tears, [tissue] tears or other associated ligament tears."

Finerman said the UCLA medical staff knows that Davis' competitive nature is to return to action as early as possible.

"Even though the knee feels well and goes through a good arch of motion, that doesn't mean go ahead and try to dunk the ball," Finerman said. "That's a discussion we'll have to have with him numerous times.

"[Part] of Baron's appeal and charm is his exuberance. If we put him on the court, it's basically full-out basketball."

For his part, Davis said he was taking faith in the relatively quick and complete recoveries from torn ACLs made recently by players such as Derek Anderson and Tim Hardaway of the NBA--and UCLA women's player Erica Gomez and running back Skip Hicks.

And he said he wasn't worried the injury might rob him of his trademark leaping ability once he returns.

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