Injuries often provide an opportunity for growth in basketball.
Players returning from an injury often talk about learning nuances of the game through watching intently from the bench or rediscovering a passion for the game when it’s suddenly ripped away.
It’s no different for junior guard Wes Clark, who returned to practice for the Missouri men’s basketball team in mid-June after sitting out for nearly four months because of a dislocated elbow.
“It’s a big difference, going from one of the best players on the team and one of the leaders to being one of the players on the bench all the time and being a motivator,” Clark said. “It was good and bad. I learned from it. It taught me to be a better teammate, be more of an encourager and more of a leader, more of a motivator. …
“I became a better teammate. I came more out of myself from being on the bench and stuff. I became more of a team player, more (interested) in helping my team instead of more worried about my shot.”
Clark still can’t bear to watch the replay from Feb. 10 at South Carolina when he dived for a loose ball and Gamecocks forward Michael Carrera dived into his right elbow, bending it the wrong way until it snapped out of its socket.
“I told myself that I was going to watch it one day, once I got the courage, but I’m still a little nervous and scared to see exactly what happened and see my arm bent the way it’s not supposed to bend,” Clark said.
He harbors no ill will, but he’s not sure when he’ll be comfortable diving to the floor again.
“I’m probably going to take off a year from that before I dive for another loose ball,” Clark said with a laugh. “But that’s part of the game.”
There shouldn’t be any lingering adverse effects from the injury.
“I feel great, man,” Clark said. “I’ve been away from the game for a long time, so I’m just happy to be back out here. I still get sore pretty fast and feel an little pain, but other than that I’m good to go. … I’m still kind of healing some, but I’ve also got to work it out to get ready for the season. It’s part of this phase, but doctors told me I was good to go.”
He’s been cleared to resume weightlifting and has no restrictions on basketball-related activities.
If anything, the injury might have forced Clark to become a more well-rounded ball handler. He’d grown up with a dominant right hand, but he’s been forced to use his left hand for everyday tasks — eating and brushing his teeth — since February.
It’s also helped him become more adept and comfortable dribbling left.
“Now, I play a little more even than with a strong, dominant right hand …,” Clark said. “I really didn’t lose too much of my (shooting) touch. It still feels good, so it wasn’t that hard. But the strength and just being coordinated, I lost a little bit of that. Everything else is pretty good.”
Clark still thinks about the injury.
“It’s still there a little bit,” Clark said. “I’ve still got it in the back of my mind, but I just play the game. Freak accidents like that don’t happen too often, so I leave it up to God.”
Now that he’s practicing again, though, he can focus on things other the injury, like helping get freshman point guard Terrence Phillips up to speed in an effort to reverse last season’s fortunes.
Clark even seems to relish a newfound teaching role he picked during those months he was sidelined.
“Wes has been a big asset for me,” Phillips said. “We played pickup last week and I had a chance to win the game, but I didn’t really have a go-to move. He pulled me to the side and said, ‘In this league, young fella, you’ve got to have a move to go to down the stretch.’ ”