By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – You could just tell from what was said by his head coach, and by his teammates, after Sunday’s victory over Cal Poly that Jack Nunge’s injury was serious.
It wasn't just what Fran McCaffery said about Nunge's injury that made you fear the worst, but also how he said it with such a gloomy tone.
And with it being a knee injury, you feared that it could be the dreaded ACL tear, and that sobering news was confirmed on Monday.
The 6-foot-11 Nunge will miss the rest of the season after having been redshirted last season.
So Nunge will have missed almost two entire seasons back-to-back by the time he recovers from the injury, which occurred in the first half of Iowa’s 85-59 victory over Cal Poly.
“All of us feel for Jack,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said in a release. “This is an unfortunate setback for a young man who spent countless hours in the gym and weight room last year preparing for this season. Jack has the full support of his teammates and coaches during his recovery.”
Nunge started the first five games at power forward, and after having struggled in the first two game, he scored 14 and 11 points, respectively, in victories over Oral Roberts and North Florida.
The Newburgh, Ind., native was just starting to find his way as one of Iowa’s key contributors, and in the time it takes to blink your eyes, his season is over.
You feel for Nunge as a third-year sophomore because he worked so hard during the past year so he could play in big games like the one coming up on Thursday against Texas Tech in the Las Vegas Invitational in Las Vegas.
The countless hours Nunge has spent gaining strength and improving his skills has gone unrewarded for the most part. And now he faces a grueling, and what is for sure to be at times, a lonely recovery process, because so much of the rehabilitation will take place away from his teammates.
The good news is that an ACL tear, while always serious, usually isn’t a career-ending injury anymore.
Nunge will have top-notch medical care, and a sound recovery plan, so he is in good hands.
It’s just tough to see a young man’s dream get put on hold for something that was beyond his control.
Injuries don’t discriminate and they rarely give any warning when they’re about to happen.
As for what Nunge’s injury means to the team, well, it’s not good, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the playing status of senior point guard Jordan Bohannon and freshman forward Patrick McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery's son.
Bohannon had hip surgery in late May and then missed the Cal Poly game because he was real sore according to Fran McCaffery, while Patrick McCaffery is dealing with the residual effects from having had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid almost five years ago.
Bohannon is deciding whether to play this season or take a redshirt. He could play in 10 games during the first semester without exhausting his eligibility for next season.
Without Nunge and the 6-9 Patrick McCaffery, Iowa’s frontline loses both depth and size.
Senior forward Ryan Kriener and junior forward Cordell Pemsl will compete for the minutes that are now available without Nunge, and how they both handle it could go a long way in determining Iowa’s success.
Junior center Luka Garza is off to a great start, scoring at least 14 points in each of the first five games, but he can’t do it alone.
He and Nunge give Iowa a legitimate twin towers, with Garza also listed at 6-11, and they were just starting to get a feel for each other on the court.
Iowa now enters into a brutal seven-game stretch where even with a healthy roster, it would be a formidable challenge.
But without Nunge, and with Bohannon and Patrick McCaffery apparently day-to-day, the next seven games could cause some major damage to Iowa's record.