Gerwig plays through knee problems

Matt Goul

Despite playing just 12 minutes, junior center Nate Gerwig scored 14 points and had five rebounds against Northern Illinois yesterday.

Credit: Matt Goul

Nate Gerwig finds it hard to forget about his ailing right knee, but throwing down a putback slam dunk can help.

“I feel all right,” Gerwig said after Kent State’s 67-57 win over Northern Illinois yesterday. “I don’t feel great, but I’m just trying to play through it.”

He played only seven minutes of the first half but scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds in the time.

Playing quick stints and not many minutes have become familiar for Gerwig all season. He cannot play too much because the knee, which kept him out of all last season, still swells up. After successful surgeries, he returned after missing all of last season with an OCD lesion that causes parts of his bone to break apart. The knee swelled up again before the season, causing him to have another procedure done to the knee and miss the first six games.

Gerwig was starting to play more minutes — then the knee started to swell up again.

He missed two games in mid-January and had to have fluid drained from the knee again. Gerwig said it’s a process he expects to continue through the rest of this season. His doctor told him another surgery after the season is likely.

“It’s something you just have to monitor,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “They said there’s really nothing major, but he’s probably going to have to go back in again and get it cleaned out at the end of the season. He’s doing a good job of handling it, and we’re trying to handle him the best we can. It’s kind of a delicate balance.”

Christian said he always talks to Gerwig about the knee and playing through it. He’s hoped just to see Gerwig get results on the court for doing so.

In the last two games, he has gotten them.

Gerwig scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds in 12 minutes of play yesterday. Twelve of those points and four of those rebounds came in the first half when he played seven minutes. He played eight minutes in the second half of a come-from-behind win at Marshall last Tuesday, giving seven points, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

Christian said the play reminded him of “the Nate of old.” He was not the only one.

“When he was a freshman, I thought he was a young man with good size, good hands and a lot of potential,” Northern Illinois coach Rob Judson said. “He did a real good job of sealing us inside and making his free throws.”

Gerwig got to the free-throw line on four consecutive possessions against Judson’s Huskies. He hit seven of his eight free throws in the stretch. He did the same at Marshall, getting to the free-throw line with his familiar physical style.

“I try to put my knee behind me and not think about it on game days,” Gerwig said.

He was not when he put back DeAndre Haynes’ missed layup. Gerwig, on the trail end of Haynes’ fast break with two defenders, elevated enough to get both of his hands on the ball as it rattled out of the rim and stuff it back in.

“I guess it felt good on that play,” he said. “I just saw the ball come out, and my eyes got real big.”

Gerwig did it three games ago in beating the halftime buzzer when playing Marshall at home. But if both dunks were in a slam-dunk contest, Gerwig would get a much better score for his latest; not the off-balanced putback with one hand two weeks ago.

“He couldn’t have ran that hard two weeks ago,” Christian said, “and he couldn’t have had the concentration to follow it in. Some of that is repetition. Some of that is him feeling better.”

Gerwig still does not practice much, regardless of how he is feeling.

“He goes in for a couple plays, but you’re so worried about his leg getting swollen,” Christian said. “That’s why he can only play three- or four-minute stretches. But he’s been giving us a good lift. He’s been rebounding the ball well.”

Gerwig has lost 35 to 40 pounds since his freshman year. He joked it was because Christian called him fat.

He came into the season weighing 260 pounds. While playing with his shoulder injury two years ago, he weighed about 280. Christian said the shoulder kept Gerwig out of practices then, too.

Now, Gerwig participates sparingly in practices. He goes in for a couple of plays that are related specifically to the game plan. Christian said sometimes Gerwig is not familiar with his responsibilities on some situations. The responsibility to keep him up on what he has to do falls on teammates.

Each week has to be planned by coaches, deciphering off days with game days and whether to rest or use the 6-foot-9 center.

“It’s hard because every day you have to ask, ‘How do you feel today, Nate? How does it look?’” Christian said. “I have to talk to the trainer every day before practice with how much can he do today.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Matt Goul at [email protected].