James Doran cut out a half hour from his daylong list of appointments, and settled into his office to talk. Suddenly, he sees Juwan Durham outside the window, bobbing up and down as he wheels himself around in a chair.
It’s not an exercise. “He’s just doing that to be annoying,” Doran says with a chuckle.
“Cold tub, please,” Doran shouts through the glass. Durham shakes his head.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Doran says. “How’d you do out there?”
Durham, who is recovering from a sprained left foot and did some light work on the court, says, “I’m playing.”
“I know that, but how’d you do?” Doran asks.
Durham flashes two thumbs up. “I’m cool …”
Doran has heard enough. “Take the tape off, stretch out and get in the cold tub, please.”
Durham, one of five scholarship players injured in what has seems like a cursed basketball season in Storrs, heads to the tub. He and Steven Enoch, who has a more serious right foot injury, a stress reaction that could be the precursor to a fracture, are expected to make it back before the season is over. Not so for Alterique Gilbert, who dislocated his shoulder and tore the labrum on Nov. 17, Terry Larrier, who tore the ACL in his right knee on Nov. 21, or Mamadou Diarra, who has a chronic knee injury and will redshirt his freshman year. In December, Jalen Adams missed a week recovering from a concussion.
“When things like this happens, everybody says, ‘oh, it’s one of those years,”‘ Doran said. “But we have not known a year like this. This isn’t ‘one of those years.'”
With so many injures, Doran has to divide his day into “appointments.” Even on a day when the Huskies (10-11) are not formally practicing. On Monday, the start of this weeklong break, Doran is in the Werth Family Center at 8:30 a.m. for a 90-minute session with Gilbert, who had surgery in December, and then another 90 minutes with Larrier, who had his surgery in late November. Both are in the midst of several months of rehab.
Following a light, voluntary workout, which he must monitor, Doran is back for sessions with Durham and Enoch. Meanwhile, during “open” sessions on the schedule, Amida Brimah is in to work on minor ankle injuries. Diarra is about ready to start practicing with the team, Doran said. On Tuesdays, Doran arrives at UConn from his home in Manchester by 7 a.m. to monitor a rehab session in Gampel Pavilion open to all athletes.
Since Doran, 50, joined the basketball program as head athletic trainer in 2005, UConn has had very few long-term injuries. Jerome Dyson injured his knee in February 2009 and missed the rest of the season, and A.J. Price tore his ACL in the NCAA Tournament in 2008, in what proved to be the last game of the season. Tyler Olander broke his foot late in the 2012-13 season.
“You start wondering, what happened? Why?” Doran said. “Why are we getting more injuries now? And we’ve had the conversations — are we overtraining? Are we doing too much on the court? But none of the injuries are like that. Terry’s and Al’s are just unfortunate, unlucky, traumatic type injuries that it’s nothing anybody did or didn’t do or could have done. Those just happen.”
UConn, with six healthy scholarship-level players, won three games in a seven-day stretch last week. The Huskies are at Cincinnati, unbeaten in American Athletic Conference play, on Saturday, and Doran, with his intern, John Odoom, is working to make that happen, whether it means getting Durham in the cold tub, or getting Enoch to wear the walking boot when he doesn’t want to.
Trainer ‘By Accident’
Doran became an athletic trainer “by accident.” He was a computer science major at Old Dominion when, just before his senior year, 1990, he felt burned out. “So I made a big change,” he said, “and I moved out to California.”
He took a few years off, then began taking two-year programs, trying different fields, including print and broadcast journalism.
Walking through the campus at San Diego State one day, he cut through the kinesiology department, saw some posters and became interested. Carolyn Greer, who is now at USD, became Doran’s role model and mentor. He enrolled in 1995, graduated in 1998, then went to Wyoming for a master’s degree, where he studied sports psychology. In 2000, he became the basketball team’s head athletic trainer.
“He started calling me The Cowboy,” Doran said. “Because I was from Wyoming.” Kevin Ollie, who became the head coach in 2012, regularly refers to Doran as “the best trainer in America.”
With Doran sitting at the end of the bench, keeping a watchful eye and coiled to spring onto the court when a player goes down, UConn won national championships in 2011 and 2014.
“So many hours we do that aren’t on the court,” he said, “aren’t around the coaches, me, in here, one-on-one with the guys. Athletic trainers usually have more unique bonds with players. And when something like that happens, everybody’s running and jumping on the court, I kind of pause, take a deep breath. It’s more elation. ‘There it is, right there, that’s why we do it. It’s all worth it.'”
Now, through UConn’s most difficult season in many years, Doran has the task of healing bodies, and spirits for players whose return to the court still seems distant.
“They still have moments of being down,” Doran said. “And for any health care provider, there is always an element of having to talk to the patient and talk him off the ledge, get him a little more optimistic about things. … The biggest thing with any rehab protocol is setting timelines and goals — short-term goals and long term goals. Setting the goals helps them have a little vision of what the light at the end of the tunnel is going to look like. As they start putting the check marks next to the goals, they start to see the progression, start to feel it and see it and understand, ‘I’m going to be fine.'”