View from the Hilltop: Episode 7

Injuries cripple the start of the season

Expectations were high this year for the Howard basketball team. The Bison had nine returning seniors. The nation’s leading scorer. A deep team expected to be competitive against the big-time schools on the pre-conference schedule. The squad was the preseason favorite to win the MEAC title.

But for the second straight year, injuries have sidetracked the Bison.

James Daniel, the leading scorer in the nation last season (27.1 points per game) and the preseason player of the year, has yet to play. James Miller recently had surgery on the same hand he injured last season, when he missed the last 27 games. Damon Collins sprained his ankle last weekend at George Washington, backup point guard Kai Tease broke his foot and is out for the season and Marcel Boyd, a first-team all-MEAC preseason pick, missed three games with an ankle injury.

That’s four starters and one key reserve who have lost games so far this season to injuries, a major factor in the team’s 1-8 start.

The Bison have used seven different starting lineups in nine games, and 11 players have received starts as injuries have forced coach Kevin Nickelberry to try different combinations. Solomon Mangham, the most consistent performer this season (12.9 PPG, 6.3 rebounds per game) is the only player to start every game. The team is so shorthanded that Kofi Andoh, a day after losing his mother to colon cancer, went from part-timer who hadn’t played more than 10 minutes in a game this season to playing a career-high 30 minutes against the Maryland Terrapins (and 32 and 34 minutes in the two games since).

The good news: Daniel is now working out with the team and should be back by the end of month. Boyd returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday against Jacksonville State. Collins is a day-to-day. And there’s a chance Miller, who had back-to-back 30-point games against Georgetown and American, can be back in four weeks.

It’s enough time to meet the goal the team set when the season started: winning the MEAC tournament and advancing to the NCAA tournament.

That’s going to take work. But the players remain confident.

“At the end of the day, every team still has to win the four games in the tournament,” Daniel said. “We should have everybody back by then.”