By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In August 2010, on the eve of his senior year at Greater Atlanta Christian School, Malcolm Brogdon committed to play basketball for the University of Virginia. That the ACC tournament was coming to Atlanta in 2012 had not escaped his notice.
“That didn’t really affect my decision, but that was definitely icing on the cake,” Brogdon said Tuesday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena.
And that made Friday especially frustrating for Brogdon, UVa’s sixth man for most of this season. When Virginia took the court at Philips Arena that afternoon to face NC State in an ACC quarterfinal, the 6-5, 215-pound guard was home with family members in nearby Decatur, Ga.
A broken bone in his left foot had prematurely ended Brogdon’s freshman season. His final appearance came Feb. 25, when he played 25 minutes and scored 4 points in a 54-51 loss to No. 7 North Carolina at JPJ.
During the regular season, UVa won 61-60 at NC State in a game in which Brogdon scored 7 points. Without him, the Wahoos fell 63-60 to the Wolfpack in the ACC tourney.
“That was hard,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We sure could have used him. But there will be hopefully many more good opportunities for him in that tournament.”
At JPJ, Brogdon watched practice from a front-row seat Tuesday, his foot in a splint and heavily wrapped, crutches at his side. His mother and his brother John had driven him from Decatur to Charlottesville on Monday, an eight-hour trip.
“I was sprawled across the back seat,” Brogdon said with a smile.
Another journey awaits Brogdon. The Cavaliers, seeded No. 10 in the West Region, leave Wednesday afternoon for Nebraska. In Omaha, the ‘Hoos (22-9) will face No. 7 seed Florida (23-10) in their NCAA tournament opener Friday afternoon. Brogdon is part of the traveling party, and his teammates are thrilled to have him back.
“I’m just going to tell him, ‘You’re still part of this team. Try to be a cheerleader,’ ” fifth-year senior Mike Scott said after practice Tuesday. “I know it’s tough as a freshman, but if he’s seeing something out there while he’s on the bench, he can talk to us about it.”
Brogdon’s foot began bothering him Feb. 18, when he hurt it against Maryland at JPJ, but he continued to play, even as the pain grew worse. After the UNC game, though, it was “too painful, too swollen,” Brogdon said Tuesday, and UVa’s medical staff shut him down for the season.
Dr. Robert Anderson operated on Brogdon’s foot last Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. The surgeon “did a bone graft,” Brogdon said. “[Anderson] took some bone out of my hip to put in between the two bones in my foot, to help them heal better.”
Anderson’s other patients over the years have included Bennett, Scott, Sammy Zeglinski and Mamadi Diane. Scott had surgery on his left ankle in late January 2011. Months of rehab followed for the 6-8 forward, who returned this season to make the All-ACC first team.
“It’s very humbling,” Scott said. “Everyone is doing what I’m doing, trying to uplift Malcolm, but it’s tough. I know what he’s feeling.”
Brogdon finished his first college season with averages of 6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He had hoped to travel on the team bus to Philips Arena on Friday, but ultimately opted to watch the game from home.
“I figured once I got [to the arena], unless they had me in a wheelchair, it was going to be too much of a hassle, too much pain,” Brogdon said. The loss “was tough to watch, but we’re still in the dance, and we’ve still got games to play.”
With a steal in the final seconds, Brogdon helped UVa secure a hard-earned victory at Virginia Tech on Feb. 21. But his foot ached that night, limiting him to 13 minutes at Cassell Coliseum.
Three nights earlier, against Maryland, Brogdon had delivered one of his best performances. In 27 minutes, he went 5 for 6 from the floor — 2 for 2 from 3-point range — and hit both of his free throws. He finished with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and no turnovers as the ‘Hoos routed the Terrapins 71-44.
“I felt like I was just hitting my stride and just sort of getting in rhythm with the team, and then — boom — this happens,” Brogdon said. “It’s a little frustrating, but I still gotta come out here and support my team, and that’s what matters most.”
Brogdon said he’s not sure how long it will be before he’s cleared to play again, but he knows he faces a long rehab. His coach’s advice?
“Be patient,” Bennett Tuesday. “You gotta be patient, do what the doctor says. There’s little things you can do when you get to a certain point, whether it’s sitting in a chair or on a barstool and working on your shooting, or working on your ballhandling to sharpen things.
“But you can also work on your off-the-court leadership stuff. In the classroom you want to be as solid as you can, because you won’t be burning up as many hours with your workout time, so you’ll have more time to study. But I do think it’s really important that he keeps the right mindset, because if you rush it or you get too discouraged, it’s just not good for anybody.”
Brogdon, a devout Christian, is confident his faith will help him clear the obstacles in his path. He remains as upbeat as ever.
“I think that’s the only way to look at it,” Brogdon said. “If you’re going to heal in the time you want to heal and be ready for next season, you’ve got to look at it in a positive manner.”