By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl confirmed Saturday that one of his star players, forward Chuma Okeke, tore his ACL in Friday’s win over North Carolina and will have surgery Tuesday.
Kentucky coach John Calipari is sorry that Okeke won’t be able to play against his team today in the Midwest Region final in Kansas City with a Final Four berth at stake.
“We were all like — you shake your head as a player, you know, that’s out there. You know what I’m saying? Every one of us were — makes you physically ill. You know, this is a sport that that happens at times, and you don’t want to see it happen to anybody,” Calipari said Saturday.
“And the crazy thing is, you know, not only is their team playing as well as any team in the country right now, they’re beating people by 25. Not only is that the case, he was playing as though he was their best player, which he probably was.
“So, I feel bad for him. Fell bad for his family and his teammates.”
Auburn guard Bryce Brown said the team is trying to cope with what happened.
“It’s just hard to take in. I mean Chuma, he doesn’t deserve that at all. He worked so hard, spent so much time in the gym and making sure his body is right,” Brown said. “It’s our jobs to pick him up, lift him up, encourage him, and all we want to do at this point is go out there and play for him. We’re going to use it at motivation. Hopefully we can do this for our boy.
“It’s tough to lose Chuma. Like I said yesterday, I felt like he’s our most valuable player for our team, all the things that he’s able to do in the court, guard 1 through 5, be able to score from the perimeter, score inside and just do all those things,” Auburn guard Jared Harper said.
“I know we’re going to get that production of all those things he did from all of us it’s going to take all of us, not just one single person.”
Kentucky had to pay five games without Reid Travis when he sprained his knee and then without PJ Washington for two NCAA Tournament games when he sprained his foot. That’s why UK freshman Tyler Herro believes Auburn will be ready to play UK this afternoon, especially considering the stakes for both teams.
“They’re playing, like coach said, as hard as any team in the country. I think they’ll still come out, play their game. I think they’ll be ready to go,” Herro said.