The University of Miami basketball team headed to Washington for the Sweet 16 without its biggest player. Reggie Johnson, a 6-10, 300-pound senior center, sustained a knee injury during the Illinois game Sunday and stayed behind.
UM released a statement saying Johnson sustained a “lower extremity injury” against Illinois and his return is uncertain. According to two sources, he underwent arthroscopic surgery Tuesday, but the school did not confirm that.
“Reggie injured himself in the Illinois game, had it evaluated on Monday, went to the doctors [Tuesday] and he will not be with us for the trip,” UM coach Jim Larrañaga said by phone from the team bus as it headed to the airport.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Reggie, and we’re hoping he can recover from this quickly. Our players are preparing to play Marquette, and we have to play with the players we have. We’ve had to deal with these issues before, and our guys have handled it with class.”
Larrañaga said he had not spoken with Johnson since Monday night.
“We’re all just going to have to step up,” sixth-year senior forward Julian Gamble said. “Hopefully, we get him back for the Final Four.”
Second-seeded UM faces No. 3 seed Marquette on Thursday night. The news was the latest setback for Johnson, who has struggled since breaking his thumb just before Christmas at the holiday tournament in Hawaii. He was averaging a double-double — 12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds — at the time of his injury. He missed eight games before returning for UM’s 90-63 win against Duke on Jan. 23.
Since then, he has played well in a few games, most notably at North Carolina State, where he had 15 points, nine rebounds and the game-winning tip-in.
But the past month, he was prone to turnovers, had trouble scoring and seemed to lose his confidence. He played only three minutes in the ACC tournament championship win against North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C., and sat the entire second half.
In his last 12 games since scoring 14 points against Florida State, Johnson is averaging 2.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and shooting 28.9 percent from the field (13 of 45) in 13.3 minutes per game.
Larrañaga, asked several times over the past month about Johnson’s slump, said the media was making too much of it, and that Johnson’s lack of playing time had more to do with Gamble earning minutes and matchup situations.
“I’ve said this before and I know you guys make a lot more of it than we do, but we’ve had great performances from our big guys,” Larrañaga said when asked about Johnson early Tuesday afternoon. “They combine to do what we need done.”
Kenny Kadji said of Johnson last week: “Every time a player struggles a little bit, there’s a lack of confidence. He’s a little bit down, but he’s not just shutting down. He’s doing everything he can to get back to his level.”
Johnson showed signs of his old self in the Canes’ NCAA Tournament opener against Pacific. He had 10 rebounds and seven points in 24 minutes. Afterward, he said he “felt like crying” when he stepped on the court because it had been a lifelong dream to play in the tournament.
“I was saying to Durand [Scott], we waited four years to play in this tournament, and we finally got our first win,” Johnson said. “That’s my first [NCAA] Tournament win, and we have a chance to do something special on a national stage.”