While Duke players and coaches have been saying or at least hinting for weeks that senior captain Ryan Kelly would be expected back before the end of the regular season, it is looking less and less like that will happen.
During the Blue Devils’ rivalry showdown with North Carolina, ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards reported that Duke was hoping to have the captain back in time for the ACC Tournament. I have never been very optimistic about the chances of Kelly coming back but recent talk about him making back for the end of the regular season gave me some hope.
All that hope is gone if Edwards’ report turns out to be true and the comparison’s I’ve made to the Kyrie Irving situation back in 2010-2011 seem to be more likely to come to fruition.
After suffering what most thought was an innocuous injury to his toe in a victory over Butler, Irving was sidelined for what was thought to be a couple of weeks and ended up turning into a little over two months. When he did return he wasn’t nearly in the kind of shape he was before the injury and though he was one of the most talented players in the college game as a freshman, his re-integration into the lineup turned into a colossal failure.
Irving wasn’t able to help Duke avoid a beat down at the hands of Arizona and a team that had learned to play without him never seemed comfortable with him back.
Kelly’s situation is eerily similar. His harmless looking foot injury is much more serious that many believed it was and he has been out over a month and will likely be right at two months by the time the ACC Tournament starts.
Duke fans were hoping that Kelly’s return would come before the post season so that the Blue Devils had a chance to work him back in the lineup in a situation that isn’t as pressure packed as tournament play where one bad game, and one loss means you go home.
For Kelly who was having a very good senior season, this has to be incredibly difficult after having missed the end of last season with the exact same foot injury that required surgery.
The Blue Devils, unlike in 2011, haven’t really adjust as well without Kelly as they did without Irving. Kelly’s ability to defend and stretch opposing defenses helped make Duke the clear favorite for the title back in December but they have looked much more vulnerable without him even though they have only lost twice.
Duke’s victory over North Carolina wasn’t nearly as impressive as many were thinking and Duke has shown a lot of inconsistencies since Kelly went down.
If projections of a return for the ACC Tournament are accurate, how much would Kelly really even be able to contribute? What kind of shape would he be in and would the week of practice even be enough to see him get anything more than occasional minutes?
There are far more questions at this point that answers. ESPN’s report suggested Kelly was doing some rehab in the pool and walking some without crutches with less pain. If there is still pain though and he isn’t even off of the crutches completely it seems unrealistic to seem him back before the end of the regular season.
Duke is in a position now where they have to weight what is in Kelly’s best long term interest and what he would even be able to provide them if he comes back at all.
It is doubtful he would be the same player. He would not be in game shape and there would be rust he’d have to shake off. A return prior to the tournaments would be ideal but not looking likely.
The optimism of what this season could have been has eroded a bit with Kelly’s injury and left a bitter taste in the mouths of Duke fans who have had to endure another significant injury.
This is clearly not the same team as the one that won its first 15 games and if Kelly doesn’t come back until the ACC Tournament it is doubtful they ever will be again this season.
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