Kendall Pollard has the itch. He wants to play basketball. He sees his Dayton Flyers teammates going through workouts this summer and knows he’s close to joining them.
The waiting game is the only thing the 6-foot-6 forward Pollard, of Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, has played all spring and summer as he works his way back from wrist and knee surgeries.
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“I can do a few things, but nothing extravagant,” said Pollard on Tuesday during a lunch break at a UD youth basketball camp at the Cronin Center. “I’ve been rehabbing every day and trying to support my teammates, to be here whenever I can and encourage them from the sideline.”
Pollard battled knee pain throughout the second half of his junior season. Coach Archie Miller described it as a developing cartilage injury that deteriorated over the course of the season. Pollard missed six games. His averages (10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds) declined because of the injury from his sophomore season (12.7 and 5.3).
Then in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament semifinals against St. Joseph’s, Pollard suffered a fractured wrist. He’s not even sure when he hurt his wrist in that game, though it may have happened on a late dunk attempt.
“I just know right after the game it was killing me,” Pollard said. “The next day we had the (NCAA tournament) selection show, and Arch was about to shake my hands. I was like, ‘Oh no.’”
Pollard wasn’t even close to 100 percent for the NCAA tournament game against Syracuse on March 18. Miller said in the spring Pollard probably shouldn’t have played.
Pollard didn’t shoot day before the game, he said, and couldn’t get the ball to the rim in the shoot-around the day of the game. When the game started, he said he was “just out there,” hardly in position to be a major factor.
Still Pollard started. He scored four points in 24 minutes. He made 2 of 7 shots from the field and grabbed six rebounds.
“I was just trying to do whatever I could,” Pollard said. “I shot like four free throws. I missed them all, but I was surprised I was able to get the ball to the rim. I managed to get it up there and not embarrass myself. Nobody noticed it.”
Pollard and Scoochie Smith each missed two free throws in the first three minutes of the second half when the Flyers trailed 30-28. No. 10 seed Syracuse, which would advance to the Final Four, outscored No. 17 Dayton 40-23 in the second half and won 70-51.
“I was just trying to maintain,” Pollard said, “hoping the other guys would will us home. Their zone’s a really tough zone, and we stopped making shots. They beat a lot of teams.”
Pollard’s offseason began with wrist surgery in early April in Dayton. Dr. Peter Barre, a hand surgeon, performed the operation. Pollard had to get that procedure out of the way before he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
The knee surgery, by Dr. Brian Cole, took place in Chicago in the first week of May. Cole has operated on many famous Chicago athletes, including Pollard’s favorite player, Derrick Rose, who’s now with the Knicks.
Going under the knife is never easy, even for an athlete who knows it may be part of the game. Pollard’s mom, Bridget, was there for both surgeries, and Dayton trainer Mike Mulcahey was also there both times.
“I was really nervous at first,” Pollard said. “I was so nervous. You’ve got to be put to sleep. It’s a tough process. I don’t see how people who have really major injuries do it. There’s a mental toughness you have to have to come back, even to do rehab.”
The surgeries preceded two tragedies in Pollard’s life. His UD teammate Steve McElvene, 20, died on May 12 after collapsing at his parent’s home in Fort Wayne, Ind. Pollard’s former Simeon teammate, Saieed Ivey, was shot and killed June 9 in Los Angeles.
In short, it’s been a challenging time for Pollard, but every day he gets closer to being able to play. He hopes he can get in some kind of shape before the team’s trip to Spain on Aug. 5. They’ll play one game in Madrid and one in Barcelona. Pollard’s goal is to play. He doesn’t want to sit and watch.
For now, Pollard said he can get a few jump shots up in practice.
“It’s not like I can go through a whole shooting workout,” he said. “I can run a little bit, but probably not a whole workout. Doing things too long hurts.”
As for being 100 percent by the time preseason practices start, Pollard said, “I’m real confident. That’s no concern. I’m just taking it day by day.”
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