Williams targets January return
But comeback this season still unlikely

Monday, November 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Darnell Williams hopes to do more than just watch this season.
(Saed Hindash photo)

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Xavier is planning to play the coming season without Darnell Williams. But he still hopes to work his way into their plans.

Williams, the Musketeers' leading scorer last season (17.3 ppg), tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while playing in Italy for the NIT All-Star team June 14, underwent surgery four days later and is expected to miss this season.

But don't tell him that.

"I haven't even started thinking about next year," he said. "I haven't given up hope on this year yet."

Williams' goals are inconsistent with medical logic: He wants to start practicing with Xavier after Christmas, and begin playing games when the Atlantic 10 Conference season begins Jan. 3 against Rhode Island.

"I've got it in my mind that I should be back this year," Williams said. "I won't rush back into it. I'm not crazy. If it's not where I think it should be and I can't last in practice, then it makes no sense to come back.

"If I come back, I've got to be 100 percent. Playing at 75 percent won't cut it. That would be hurting the team more than it would be helping it."

Williams said that if he starts to practice, he'll know whether he can play in games, especially if he is matched against fellow senior James Posey.

If he is not 100 percent by the A-10 opener, Williams said he will probably sit out the season. Yet he admits he's not mentally ready for that.

"Well, I say the first A-10 game, but you never know," the senior said.

Xavier coach Skip Prosser has said repeatedly that unless Williams is 100 percent, he will not return this season.

"He knows his knee better than I do," Prosser said. "I can say that right now I'm planning on this season going without him." Trainer David Fluker raves about Williams' work ethic in rehabilitating his knee. He said the fact that Williams has strong leg muscles and was in top condition when the injury occurred is in his favor.

Five or six days a week, Williams stretches, then goes through a series of leg and hip exercises. The rehab sessions are about 90 minutes long. Later, he rides a stationary bicycle for 20 to 30 minutes. He isn't running yet, but he has gently worked on his jump shot.

"He's ahead of schedule," Fluker said. "Mentally, he's right in tune with his day-to-day routine. He never misses. As a matter of fact, within the past three, four weeks he's probably stepped it up a notch."

Fluker said Williams is "roughly 50 to 60 percent as far as his strength is concerned. He'd have to be 80 to 85 percent before we start any serious running."

Reasonably, Fluker said, it takes eight to 12 months for a person to completely heal from the kind of surgery Williams had. Ultimately, Williams and Prosser will sit down and make the decision as to whether he comes back this season, or returns next year for a fifth season as a medical redshirt.

"If he wants to come back and practice with the team, we're talking February," Fluker said. "He won't be 100 percent at that time (Jan. 3)."

Why would Williams try to rush back this season?

  • He wants to finish his career with seniors Gary Lumpkin, Lenny Brown and Posey. They came in as a recruiting class, and he'd like to leave with them.

  • After watching preseason practices and two exhibition games, Williams knows he can help the Musketeers. "The only thing I think about is winning, and if I can come back and help this team win another A-10 title and try to get to the Final Four, that would be big," Williams said.

  • It's a personal challenge. Any competitor wants to beat the odds, do what he's told can't be done. Given Fluker's timetable, Williams would do so by returning after Christmas.

    Why Williams would be better off not rushing back?

  • Next season, he could be Xavier's No. 1 scoring option with the spotlight clearly on him. This season, there is still Lumpkin, Brown and Posey.

  • The 6-foot-5 wing player aspires to play in the NBA, and scouts would have a better chance to evaluate him over the course of a full season. And, if he's not able to play as well as last season, it could hurt his pro prospects.

"If it would come to a decision this year about him playing, then that would be the proper time to address that," Prosser said. Williams has handled his injury with a remarkably upbeat attitude, the result of a pep talk from his mother after he hurt his knee.

Prosser keeps Williams involved in practices. Williams is present every day and on the floor as often as possible, helping the coaches in drills, rooting on teammates and instructing younger players.

His teammates would love to see him return but have urged Williams to do what's best for him in the long run.

"In private, I have down moments," Williams said. "But I try not to let it get me down because if it does, then I might not have the ambition to get up the next day. All I do is look forward to the next day to try to get better and try to get out there.

"It's frustrating. You can't even describe it. It just hurts so much. I miss being out there. I miss running and playing and jumping and banging. Even the coaches yelling at me, I miss that now."

He knows it's going to get harder. XU opens the regular season Tuesday at Butler.

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