Memphis Tigers Basketball: Angel Garcia Continues Rehab; Return Imminent?

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer INovember 21, 2009

Breaking News: Angel Garcia eyeing a January 2010 return date


Angel Garcia, the 6’11”, 250-pound forward for the Memphis Tigers with length and superior skills, has taken a most circuitous route to the college hardwood.


He was born in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, on July 11, 1988 to Luis and Ada Garcia.


As he grew—and grew, and grew, and grew some more—his size and athleticism allowed him to make a name for himself playing basketball. And of course, the only way to play the game at the highest level is to compete right here in the United States.


Garcia played ball at East Chicago High School in Indiana.


During the 2006-’07 season, Garcia and his teammates secured the Indiana 4A State championship, the school’s first since 1971. One of the players on the team that East Chicago defeated (Indianapolis North Central) was Eric Gordon, now in the NBA.


Angel then played for the Puerto Rican FIBA World Championship team, and averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 boards per contest, astounding figures for a 19-year old playing against grown men and professionals.


The following year, he led East Chicago to Sectional and Regional titles, though they could not ring home the State crown.


He was a very highly-regarded recruit, being the No. 47 player overall according to Rivals , No. 36 by Scout , No. 62 on, and No. 72 at John Calipari and Memphis came calling, and he signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) with the team in the fall of 2007.


The following fall is when the bottom fell out of Angel’s basketball world.


First, there were delays in his passing muster with the NCAA Clearinghouse. Then, after being given a limited exemption by the NCAA, which allowed him to practice with the team until the matter was cleared up, Garcia tore the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee.


The Clearinghouse never ruled him eligible, and Garcia lost out on an entire season.


Unbowed, he rehabilitated steadfastly, continued to take classes, and even occasionally showed up at Tiger home games. (By NCAA rule, he was not allowed to travel to away games with the Memphis team.)


When John Calipari fled Memphis for the bluegrass pastures of Kentucky, Garcia was one of the first Tiger players to pledge that he would stay at Memphis.


However, life was not through dealing Angel Garcia a lousy hand. As he eagerly prepared for the 2009-’10 season, which would be (according to classification) his freshman campaign, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee while participating in a non-contact drill.


In fact, he was running in a straight line during the first week of fall workouts when the knee simply collapsed under him.


Initial estimates were that rehabilitation would take six-to-eight months after his late-September surgery—meaning, he would not be ready until March 2010 at the earliest.


However, through all of this adversity, Garcia has kept a positive attitude. Anytime we have spotted him, he has always had a smile, and he seems to genuinely enjoy hanging out with his teammates.


He has worked out like a madman—his upper body is sculpted as if he were a statue—and he just might step foot on the court with his Tiger teammates as early as January 2010.


Tiger fans should pay heed to the caution that Jack Murphy uttered: “It’s not up to Angel when he comes back. It’s up to his body and the doctors.”


But Murphy—who was sitting down to dinner with Josh Pastner at the time—confirmed for that Angel Garcia wants to return to the court soon, and that the coaching staff would love to have him in uniform when he is healthy.


What follows is a transcript of the brief interview that I had with Angel in the locker room after Memphis defeated Tennessee Tech, 92-59, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2009.


Leroy Watson, Jr., Managing Editor: Angel, you had a bad break this year. Your tore the ACL in your right knee. But you’re looking good, and your upper body is ripped. How is the knee rehabilitation coming along?


Angel Garcia, University of Memphis student-athlete: “The knee is coming great. There’s nothing bad I can say about my knee. It doesn’t hurt. It only swells sometimes when I sleep; that’s about it.”


LWJ: We report to Memphis fans about your shooting exploits at practice, how your jumper is so pure that you don’t even draw rim, it’s all nylon. Memphis fans are drooling to see you in action. Are you as excited about playing again as the fans are to see you?


AG: “Yeah, I really feel like I’m ready to get back, but right now I can’t jump, all I can do is shoot, shoot, shoot. I can’t jump or dunk the basketball, so that’s what I’ve been working on, my jump shot. I guess it’s getting better. (Grins)”


LWJ: How proud of you over your team’s effort tonight, when they could have had a let-down after a tough, tough loss to Kansas? They came out and took care of business.


AG: “It made me feel great, the way we’re doing things right now, the way we work together. The team just stays together, and do whatever it is we’ve gotta do, whatever it takes. We’re gonna do (well).”


LWJ: If your rehabilitation goes well, do you see yourself in Tiger blue and grey next year?


AG: “This season! This season for sure, I’m not thinking about next season. Maybe January.”


LWJ: This year?


AG: “Yes, this year. I’ve got about two months (of rehab left), and after two months, in about two-and-a-half weeks, I’ll be back on court.”


If it seems ambitious, that’s because it is. Returning from ACL surgery in five months is not the norm.


However, if anyone has earned the right to dream a little, it’s Angel Garcia. And the Memphis team, coaching staff, and fans will be dreaming right along with him.



Leroy Watson, Jr. is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist for the University of Memphis men’s basketball program