Conference play is often described as a grind, but the entire season has been that and more for shooting guard Seth Curry, who has played through a lingering leg injury during his senior campaign.
Curry—who has not been able to exactly identify his injury all season—has battled through persistent pain in his right shin even before the team’s season officially began in October.
“I can’t really jump off my right leg,” Curry said. “It hasn’t really affected my quickness. It’s just constant pain.”
More than anything, the injury has affected his preparation regimen. The Blue Devil coaching staff held him out for Countdown to Craziness and the first exhibition game of the season. But having missed just one game all season because of the injury, Curry has been meticulously managed on a week-to-week basis to ensure he’s ready to go for games. This requires the Duke co-captain to sit out of practices each week in order to give his leg ample time to recover following a game. To further aid the maintenance and healing, he wears a boot on his right foot for much of the day.
“Probably a day off or two days off,” Curry said in regards to the right dosage of rest after a game. “Let it calm down. Let the activation of it calm down a little bit. It’s not really an exact science. We’re trying to figure it out as we go.”
After Saturday’s 84-64 win against Maryland, head coach Mike Krzyzewski estimated Curry has missed 40 of the team’s 65 practices this season.
“I know that it’s tough for people to understand this but Seth hardly practices,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 84-64 win against Maryland Saturday. “When you are trying to put something new in—if he’s not practicing—you don’t get the continuity that you would. He’s a key, one of our best players.”
While Curry is inactive during practice, junior reserve utility guard Tyler Thornton fills in as Curry in the team’s starting lineup. When doing so, Thornton will often emulate Curry’s style of play and role in order to help the first unit maintain its chemistry and implement new offensive sets during the week.
“[Thornton has] done a great job of filling in and playing a different role than he does in games,” Curry said.
As a seasoned veteran, however, Curry’s experience playing with the team over the years has helped the offense continue to click for much of the year.
“It hasn’t [affected chemistry] as much as I thought it could,” Curry said. “Coach has to put in plays [in practice], and sometimes I have to walk through it rather than go full speed. It’s definitely different than going full speed. For the most part, the team has done a good job of knowing who I am and just trying to fit me in, and I think that comes from being an older guy. The guys know what I bring to the table.”
There have been some alarming ups and downs in Curry’s somewhat roller-coaster of a season. He battled through his most difficult stint of pain in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, in which he had to play three games in as many days. In those contests against VCU, Minnesota and Louisville, he scored 25, 15 and 14 points, respectively.
But it was the following game that the agony took its toll on him. After the taxing tournament, it was apparent that Curry’s bad wheel resulted in him being a non-factor in Duke’s next game versus Ohio State—scoring just four points, his second-lowest output of the season. The next game against Delaware is the only he has missed all season.
The sharpshooter was also invisible against Miami last week—going 0-for-10 from the field and finishing with no points. But the game was another example of how his pain has been managed—with the Blue Devils already losing by 27, he rested for the final 8:13 of the game.
On the whole, however, the Charlotte product is still registering some of his best stats in a Duke uniform: 15.7 points per outing, while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. And aside from the Ohio State and Miami games, he has risen to the occasion when needed.
“[Curry] played well,” said sophomore point guard Quinn Cook after the team’s first loss against N.C. State, in which Curry scored a team-high 22 points and kept the team in the game. “He’s the best shooter in the country. He made it rough for their defense to guard him.”
Fortunately for Curry, the worst may be behind him, but time will tell if he can successfully endure the rigors of the team’s home stretch in conference play followed by the always arduous ACC tournament.
“It has been healing, slowly, over the course of the season,” Curry said. “It has been getting a little bit better.”
Following the conclusion of the season, Curry plans to take a month to nurse his leg back to 100 percent. Until then, Curry is not going to let an injury damper his senior season, and he’ll continue to do what he has been doing all year—playing through the pain with his eye on the prize.
“It’s my last year, and I want to be out there for it,” Curry said. “I want our team to win championships, and for our team to win championships I have to be out on the floor and I have to play well. That’s my main motivation.”