One Tough Tiger

5 years 7 months 2 weeks ago March 09, 2011 Mar 9, 2011 Wednesday, March 09 2011 Wednesday, March 09, 2011 6:16:00 PM CST in Sports
By: Eric Blumberg

Justin Safford thinks about February 24th, 2010 everyday, but he doesn't think about the eight points he scored against Colorado. Instead he thinks about the moment his season suddenly ended.

"That time of the year I thought Justin was playing some of his best basketball and for our rotation we needed Justin in there," said Coach Melvin Watkins.

Just moments after that jam, he jammed his knee.

"Somebody told me it was on Youtube the next day," Safford recalled. "I watched it then. It didn't look too good."

"Just one of those unfortunate events."

Safford tore his ACL and was out for the season facing four to six months of rehab.

"Ground zero is when I woke up in my boxers freezing cold and I actually tried to get up to go to the bathroom once and about passed out. It was so painful," Safford said.

The journey back is a long road with lots of steps and little progress.

"There's days people don't want to go to work. There's days people don't want to practice. I think when you keep the main goal in hand, it's all worth it," Safford said.

"It takes an athlete to buy into it and actually put the time in and Justin, to this point, has been positive about rehabbing because he wants to get back on the court," Watkins added.

Safford spends six days a week working his way back to basketball shape.

"There's been a couple of times when I really wanted to punch a hole through a wall. It gets really frustrating. I feel like I've taken some of the aggression out on the rehab," Safford explained.

Mizzou trainer Pat Beckman's helped dozen of athletes come back from ACL injuries.

"I call Pat my sidekick. I spend every single day with him for about and hour and a half, two hours," Saffod said.

Safford's rehab is ahead of schedule. He has plans to go out on his terms, just the way he came in.

"I was the only freshman. Now I'm the only senior. I think it's different, but it's exciting," Safford said.

"Once he gets back on that floor and in the locker room where he's healthy. We're surely going to lean on him to give us that leadership," Watkins explained.

There is no time for excuses. Last time he wore a uniform, they carried him off the court, but now he's pouring out the sweat to make it back.

"It will make me even more hungry because basketball's something I've done every single day," said Safford, "when it's taken away from me, it shows you can't take too many things for granted."

Safford started agility work this week but his trainers had to tell him to actually slow down. He says he expects to come back to full strength by September.


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