With 4:15 remaining in their ACC Tournament semifinal matchup against Clemson, the Blue Devils huddled up for a timeout. Something was noticeably wrong. Gerald Henderson was doubled over in pain, clutching his right wrist.
Henderson, who originally injured his wrist Feb. 6 at North Carolina, had blocked out to grab a rebound against the Tigers, and his positioning forced his wrist to curl inward. He was X-rayed at Bobcats Arena after the game and although Henderson was in undeniable pain, the X-ray revealed that he hadn't injured himself any further.
It could have been a lot worse for Henderson, who is already scheduled to have surgery after the season. As it turned out, Duke caught a break.
Duke head coach Mike Kzyzewski said that if Henderson's wrist had bent in the other direction, he might have incurred a more serious injury.
"He feels pretty good," Krzyzewski said. "[With] the individual work we're doing, he's getting reps and he looks good. I think he'll be fine."
The Blue Devils know how important it is for them to have a healthy Henderson.
In the two weeks following his initial injury, the sophomore averaged just six points per game as Duke dropped two of four in conference play. Henderson then adjusted to his injury, averaging 12.6 points over the final seven games while guiding the Blue Devils to five wins in that stretch. If Duke is going to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, it will need the post-Miami Henderson, the one who can both slash to the basket and sink medium- to long-range jumpers.
In the time he struggled, Henderson's wrist was sufficiently swollen, which forced him to use his left hand more often than he was used to. Once the swelling went down, though, he was able to go back to using his right hand more frequently. The wrist even improved to the point that the sophomore proclaimed it was "almost back to normal" before the ACC Tournament.
"It took me a while to get adjusted," Henderson said then. "Now, I'm perfectly fine. I have my confidence to shoot the ball-not from wherever, but from the 3-point line and in, I guess. It feels good."
Henderson has also picked up his defensive play, registering six blocks in the Blue Devils' final seven games after not recording any in the four games post-injury. And while the lingering pain may continue to affect the guard on the offensive end, he should be a significant contributor defensively and in the hustle categories.
"It might take away from his ability to shoot the ball and his ability to score a little bit, but it shouldn't take away from his ability to make plays-play defense, rebound, other plays that still can win games," senior captain DeMarcus Nelson said. "That's something that we stress to him, and I think he's still doing a pretty good job on the offensive end."
Nelson also said that during Henderson's recovery period, the swingman has tended to attack the basket more instead of shooting longer-range jumpers. Although the captain said his teammate should not be afraid to take his shot, Nelson added that Henderson's interior play has helped the team's offense overall.
More than anything, however, Henderson's learning experience in those four contests after the injury may prove to be valuable as Duke enters the NCAA Tournament. He has learned to play through a damaged wrist that will not be fully healthy until after the season.
"Since he's already done that-gone through those two weeks-he knows that he can't get into a game competing against an injury," Krzyzewski said. "He has to compete against his opponent, so I think he'll be fine."
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