FanTake – Duke Basketball: Still No Foot Injury Solution?

Amile Jefferson Duke

Photo: Mark Dolejs-USATSI

Gym shoes are by far the most important gear for a basketball player. The best basketball players are undoubtedly the hardest on shoes because of the extreme stress and impact of leaps, sprints, skids, twists, collisions and screeching stops.

Even back in 8th grade as he was moving up into AAU ball, Grayson Allen was blowing through so many pairs of high priced athletic shoes that his mother began making him work to pay for them. His feet were huge even then, size 15-16, and when Nate James came to see him play, Allen had to duct tape his shoes because they were falling apart again. These shoes are obviously supposed to protect players’ feet from injury, but do they?

In August 2013, I wrote an article posted on Duke Report titled, Duke Basketball: Why all the Foot Injuries? In that piece, I detailed Duke foot injuries starting with Bobby Hurley in 1992. I covered twelve serious foot and ankle injuries between 1992 and 2013.

Interestingly enough, a majority of those injuries appeared to be a breakage of the fifth metatarsal bone in the foot—not an incidental injury. However, there were also such ailments as sprains, ankle twists, and toe injuries sprinkled in.

The problem was considered serious enough even back in 2004 that Dr. J. Guettler assembled a small group of other doctors at the Duke Medical Center, including Claude Moorman, Director of Sports Medicine, and they researched what could be causing the preponderance of injuries. In their report, they mentioned such issues as improving the arch in athletic shoes, but some disagreed, stating that high arches might actually cause injuries.

I’m not certain what other recommendations were offered, but apparently, no distinct improvements resulted and Duke players kept falling to foot injuries.

Well, the saga appears to be continuing without abatement.

During the 2015-16 season, Jahlil Okafor, the newest Duke superstar, was battling an ankle injury he sustained against North Carolina on Feb. 18. He missed several games but appeared again in late February against Virginia Tech.

Also in December 2015, Amile Jefferson’s season ended after nine games when he fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot while diving for a loose ball in practice. Duke later petitioned the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver which granted him another year of eligibility.

Then the following season, Jefferson, who’d been playing excellent basketball at power forward through the first two months of the season, injured his foot again midway through the first half of a game against Boston College. He limped to the bench and did not return for several games, reportedly suffering from a bone bruise.

Early in the 2016-17 season, both Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden suffered foot injuries and missed the first eight games. Tatum eventually found his rhythm, regained his wind and lived up to the hype. For some reason, Bolden never did.

Grayson Allen had an injury riddled 2016-17 season. He’d been playing through a right foot injury suffered in a two-point loss to No. 5 Kansas on November 15, 2016 when he again tweaked that foot. Then, after scoring 21 points in the first half against Appalachian State on November 26 at Durham, he injured a toe late in the game. After sitting out for a while, he scored a career-high 34 points against UNLV on December 10, one day after returning to practice, but apparently the injuries lingered throughout the season.

Then Matt Jones went down. On February 9th against North Carolina with 7:43 left in the first half, Jones drove to the basket, leaped and landed awkwardly on the side of his left ankle. He was helped off the court and did not come back after halftime. A painful injury.

Though many were likely not aware of it, Frank Jackson also suffered a foot injury at Duke but played through it. He declared for the June 22, 2017 NBA draft and hired an agent, but NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, reported that he would undergo surgery Wednesday, May 24 on his right foot. He’s expected to be sidelined until July.

I have no axe to grind. I don’t even know who supplies the shoes for Duke basketball. But a problem of this magnitude, covering this many years, has to be more than a conditioning problem. I hope that the program is able to get to the bottom of the problem soon.

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