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Daily Dribble | Message Board  | Adam Stanco Archive

By Adam Stanco

basketballwriter@cs.com

February 16, 2005

 

Curtis Sumpter: The Decision

 

Itís the ultimate decision.

 

Sometime very soon, Curtis Sumpter must choose whether to do whatís best for his team or do whatís best for himself.

 

It isnít as simple as that, but it is.

 

After having two ACL surgeries on his left knee, the Villanova senior forward hasnít been healthy enough to take the floor all season. So heís now straining over the most difficult of choices: Take a medical redshirt or help one of the countryís top ranked teams make a push for the Final Four.

 

Villanova hasnít been to the Final Four since their unlikely run to the National Championship in 1985, but this could likely be the year of their return. They are storming through the regular season. They are marching towards a number one seed in March. All the injured senior can do is watch. And excruciatingly fight to join them.

 

Novaís senior class Ė Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Jason Fraser, and Sumpter Ė was once a nationally-renowned high school foursome. They all lived within driving distance of New York City. Foye from Newark, New Jersey, Ray from the Bronx, Fraser from Long Island, and Sumpter from Brooklyn.

 

They were highly prominent recruits. They were AAU teammates. They were friends. And then one day, they were Wildcats. More importantly, to Villanova University, they were potential saviors.

 

Months and months of early morning practices and locker room jokes. The painful losses. Homesickness. Yet after two seasons together, all this oh-so-important recruiting class had to show for their effort was a .500 record and far more piles of sweat soaked socks than dreams fulfilled. At least thatís what everyone outside the program thought. Few understood the bond between these basketball brethren.

 

Everything clicked last year. Villanova won 24 games and no one in the NCAA Tournament came closer to beating UNC, the eventual NCAA Tournament champion. But during the second round of the tournament, Sumpter tore up his knee. In October, he re-tore it and, consequently, tore up the programís promise of hope for the first time in a long time.

 

The Wildcats play a four-guard offense, occasionally exposing a lack of size. They could use a scorer who is not overly dependent on his jumper falling. A 6-foot-7 swingman with an ultra-smooth offensive repertoire, Sumpter fills both needs perfectly.

 

However, Sumpter hasnít even yet practiced with the team this season. He doesnít even watch practice because, as he says, it just hurts too much. Not his knee, his heart. He wants to be there with his teammates. He wants to be there for his friends.

 

And game day must be killing him. Sumpter averaged over 15 points and 7 boards a game last season, while shooting 47% from the field. All those plays once concocted just for him are now spread equally amongst Villanovaís horde of healthy stars. Sumpter was their go-to-guy, but now that distinction belongs to Ė depending on the day Ė Foye, Ray, or sophomore Kyle Lowry. 

 

Prior to the injury, most mock drafts projected him as a mid-first round pick. Now heíd be lucky to go late in the second round. Any NBA GM who drafts a kid with a bad knee takes a risk, but drafting a player who has had two ACL surgeries is committing employment suicide. 

 

If he applies for a medical redshirt, he could snatch back his role as team leader, show off his rehabilitated knee, and Ė in the process Ė increase his draft stock.

 

You just canít blame the kid if he sits this one out.

 

Villanova coach Jay Wright is publicly pleading for him to do just that. Next yearís team will feature a solid nucleus of sophomore guard Mike Nardi, junior forward Will Sheridan, freshmen forwards Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham, and the aforementioned Lowry. Add Sumpter to the mix and the í06-í07 Wildcats could be very good. But Wrightís reasoning isnít selfish. The coach realizes second round draft picks donít make nearly as much money as first round picks. He also knows second rounders donít have guaranteed contracts.

 

The start of the Big East Tournament is Sumpterís personal deadline and, in a way, his goal is to make a seemingly easy decision as difficult as possible. That explains his maniacal rehab. Each day the tedious, endless workouts nearly bring him to tears, but when his muscles tremble and the lungs burn, he thinks of how he canít let his teammates down. He knows he can help them win a National Championship, even if his role is complementary.

 

After all, he says, his friends would do the same for him. Itís what theyíve all dreamed about and itís why they all came to this school together.

 

If Sumpter returns this season, he could potentially play nine games. Nine postseason games. Three in the conference tournament and six in the one that truly matters. Of course, if the Wildcats lose their first game in both, his return would ultimately last just two games.

 

Curtis Sumpter believes in loyalty and friendship and brotherhood. And he may risk his future to prove it.

 

 

 

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