March 31, 2010
Columbia, Mo. -
The march back has begun for Tiger junior Justin Safford. After undergoing knee surgery for a torn ACL last week, Safford has remained in Columbia over Spring Break and is working daily with Mizzou Basketball trainer, Pat Beckmann, in his trek to return to the lineup next fall.
Prior to the injury Safford was enjoying a breakout junior campaign, where he averaged career highs in points (8.6), rebounds (4.1) and minutes per game (20.0). He saw his scoring average increase a full point per game over the course of league action, which included a career high 19 points at Kansas and four consecutive double figure scoring games vs. Texas A&M, at Colorado, Iowa State and at Baylor.
The Bloomington, Ill., native looked well on his way to yet another high-scoring game at home vs. the Buffaloes on Feb. 24 when he landed awkwardly on an alley-oop pass and ultimately tore his ACL. Safford actually made the lay-up on the play, scoring his eighth point in the game's first seven minutes, but saw his worst fears confirmed the following morning when doctors diagnosed him with the ACL tear.
"It was tough," Safford said. "I don't think any player expects that to happen to them and I thought I had just tweaked it. Kimmie (English) had fallen on my other leg a few weeks prior and it was the same feeling, except I was fine and was able to finish out practice."
Last week's surgery was a success for Missouri's 6-foot-8, 230 pounder and has the soon-to-be-senior looking forward to the future as the summer quickly approaches.
"I'm excited about the future and my senior season," Safford said. "I can't wait to get back and compete with my teammates. Pat (Beckmann) and the doctors have been great. They all have so much experience. They have told me what's gone right and what's worked best with rehabs in the past, so I am prepared. We have the best people around."
Safford will look to be the first Missouri Tiger since Arthur Johnson, Rickey Paulding and Travon Bryant to play for three consecutive NCAA Tournament teams, a fact that hasn't been lost on one of Mizzou's most-improved players from a year ago.
"It's a measure of team success and we expect it now," Safford said. "That's a big goal for our team. The NCAA Tournament and potential gives us something to strive for. Even with the success we had this season, we felt it was cut a little short. We had so many injuries, that we are still a hungry basketball team."
Safford is currently rehabbing from his surgery and rehabilitation time can range anywhere from four to six months. Safford began rehab well before the surgery, working on strengthening his quadriceps, hamstring and calf muscles.