The wait is over for Cartier Diarra.
One month and eight games after breaking the ring finger on his shooting hand, the Kansas State sophomore guard is ready to return to the lineup and help the Wildcats as they play their first game of the Big 12 Tournament around 2 p.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center.
“I feel very comfortable,” Diarra said. “I have felt very comfortable for a (while), but you have to be patient with injuries. I am almost fully healed and I do plan on playing. I am excited.”
His timing couldn’t be better.
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Diarra’s return coincides with K-State losing star forward Dean Wade for an unknown amount of time because of a foot injury.
Wade, a senior, wasn’t present for the team’s Sprint Center practice on Wednesday, and K-State coach Bruce Weber said he is “very doubtful” to play this week. But Diarra, sporting only tape on his fingers, was a full participant and is expected to come off the bench and help the Wildcats against TCU.
Sophomore guard Mike McGuirl or junior forward Austin Trice will replace Wade in the starting lineup.
“It depends on who we play,” Weber said.
Filling in for a player like Wade, a first-team All-Big 12 player in back-to-back seasons, isn’t easy. But K-State has won games without him before, including some in the postseason.
Diarra making plays has made a big difference in his absence.
“There is no doubt that (he can give us a lift) with his experience,” Weber said. “He has been through this. He was part of the run last year. The sad part is right before he hurt his hand I thought he was playing as well as he has done in his career. Now can he get that back quickly? We will see.”
K-State won’t rush Diarra back. The goal is to use this week as a warm-up for the NCAA Tournament, where he can hopefully regain his top form.
Diarra was at his best in February before he injured his hand, reaching double figures in four straight games and making highlight plays like a windmill dunk against Kansas and a jaw-dropping assist against Baylor.
He did his best to stay involved while he was on the sideline.
“I watched a lot of basketball,” Diarra said. “My muscle memory is really good so that helped me. When I first got back to shooting the ball it wasn’t a finger thing it was just that I hadn’t used my wrist in a while. So it is just getting that feeling back and the strength, because I shoot the three ball a lot. I had to get back to shooting the ball from that far. I feel like I have adjusted really well and I am looking forward to putting it to the test tomorrow.”
Diarra is averaging 6.3 points and 3.2 rebounds this season, but he is capable of much more.
The Wildcats are glad to have him back.
“When Cartier went down we missed him a lot,” K-State senior Kamau Stokes said. “We didn’t have an extra guard out there for ball handling and aggressiveness. I feel like teams have to be ready for that when he comes back, because he is coming back hungry and I can’t wait to play with him again.”