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CU basketball loses starting center to torn ACL
The Colorado men’s basketball team had a rough start to their season last Wednesday, when they lost starting center Shane Harris-Tunks for the season due to a torn ACL.
The news is especially devastating to a team that ranked last in the Big 12 in rebounding last season.
"It was kind of nothing really," said Harris-Tunks. "We were just doing some warm-up drills and as I went to catch the ball, my leg was straight and I got hit from the side and it locked and my knee just popped out."
Last season, Harris-Tunks was forced to start much of the season at center due to lack of depth on the CU team. Though seven feet tall, Harris-Tunks was not strong or physical enough to compete for rebounds in the Big 12.
But during the offseason, Harris-Tunks improved as much as any Colorado player. The Australian big man gained over 40 pounds of muscle, and coaches were predicting a breakout year.
“I am extremely disappointed for Shane,” head coach Tad Boyle said last week. “He has worked so hard putting himself in position to be a positive contributor on this team. On the bright side, Shane has three years remaining. He will learn from the bench and continue to develop from the sideline.”
For Colorado, rebounding is the key to the season. The Buffs feature two preseason Wooden Award watch list candidates; they are one of only five teams in the nation to receive that honor. Cory Higgins and Alec Burks are both all-conference players, and will likely both be drafted into the NBA in the spring.
Last season the team was one win away from receiving an invite to the National Inviational Tournament at the end of the season. This year, their goals are set to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.
“I think it’s more disappointing for some of the seniors on our team because we were really excited about this year,” said Harris-Tunks.
Colorado won’t give up hope on the season however. CU just needs one of its other big men to step up and fill the shoes left by Harris-Tunks. The most likely candidates for the job are juniors Austin Dufault and Trey Eckloff, and freshman Ben Mills.
Dufault has the most experience of the three, having started every game his freshman season and more than half for the Buffs last year. At 6’7”, Dufault is more natural as a power or small forward, but has been forced to play center before, and will likely have to do it again this season.
Trey Eckloff has seen limited playing time in his two seasons in Boulder. The Evergreen, CO native has the biggest body of the three replacement candidates, but has very little experience and his speed might be an issue for concern.
Freshman Ben Mills reminds some of Harris-Tunks last season. The true freshman has a long seven-foot frame, but has yet to pack on much muscle, and will likely redshirt this season in order to gain more weight and keep his four years of eligibility.
The remaining starting line-up for CU of Burks, Higgins, Marcus Relphorde, and Shannon Sharpe is poised for a breakout season for the Buffaloes. How the man who steps up to replace Harris-Tunks plays may determine the outcome of the season for Colorado.