AUSTIN, Texas — The late five-game winning streak for the Texas Longhorns featured a shortened rotation thanks to a handful of injuries. Three players underwent offseason surgery and some are still limited in their participation as they continue rehabilitation, head coach Shaka Smart said on Thursday during a media availability.
Knee injuries suffered by senior guard Jase Febres and sophomore guard Donovan Williams both required surgery. Redshirt junior Andrew Jones underwent hip surgery. And senior forward Jericho Sims and junior forward Gerald Liddell both spent time recovering from stress fractures in their backs.
So even though Texas still has two more months until non-conference games begin, that’s a significant number of players who had significant injuries.
Febres underwent microfracture surgery in early March to repair a cartilage injury in his knee. Since recovery from that surgery can take six to nine months, Smart said that Febres is still working his way back. The extended end of that timetable could push into the early part of non-conference play for the sharpshooting senior who averaged a career-high 37.4 percent from three-point range last season. Febres averaged 12.3 points per game overall.
Surgery for Williams happened shortly after Febres, but his recovery has happened more quickly, according to Smart. And while Williams isn’t yet cleared for five-on-five play in practice, Smart said that he’s moving around better than he was last season, when he was already feeling the effects of the injury that eventually worsened enough to require surgery.
The next key for Williams, Smart said, is once again to trust playing fast. As a freshman, the 6’6, 180-pound wing showed serious flashes, including a career-high 13-point performance against Iowa State that featured three made three-pointers.
“We’re hopeful that within the next four weeks or so, he’ll get to the point where he’s completely cleared,” Smart said.
Jones underwent hip surgery during the offseason. His recovery has gone well enough that he could receive clearance for live play next week. According to Smart, Jones has been frustrated about that delay because of how well he’s moving around. Physically, Jones looks stronger and as explosive or more explosive than he has since arriving in Austin four years ago.
So Jones looks poised to build on the strong finish to his 2019-20 season — during a February stretch, Jones scored 21 or more points in three of four games. Over that time, Jones made 18-of-27 shots from three-point range, good for 66.7 percent.
The situations for Sims and Liddell seem a bit more fluid. On the positive side, both are cleared for practice right now and Smart described their recoveries as “really good.” However, he did mention that back injuries can linger, so Texas is taking a long-term perspective with them — it’s possible that one or both could suffer from flareups of those injuries this year.
Sims took big steps forward from the standpoints of aggressiveness and consistency, scoring 9.7 points per game and grabbing 8.2 rebounds per contest. The Minnesota native even showed some aptitude running the offense from the high post, as his assist rate went from 0.7 per 100 possessions to 1.8 per 100 possessions.
For Liddell, the progress wasn’t there to the same extent after his promising debut against Purdue during which he scored 14 points and added eight rebounds.