(Photo of Malik Williams, Chris Mack: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One of the biggest 'what-ifs' regarding the 2020-21 season for the Louisville men's basketball program revolves around the health of Malik Williams. Due to injuries in his left ankle and right foot, the Cardinals' co-captain and defensive anchor played in just three of their twenty games on the season.
Coming off of a 2019-20 junior campaign in which he finished as the runner-up in ACC Sixth Man of the Year voting, Williams developed a new fracture in his right foot just three weeks before the start of his senior year on Nov. 7, 2020.
It wouldn't be until Feb. 20, 2021 at North Carolina, fifteen weeks later, until he would finally get back on the court. He would play in his only home game of the season on Feb. 23 vs. Notre Dame, then at Duke on Feb. 27, aggravated his right foot yet again.
"We got an X-ray and felt like the foot was starting to re-fracture," head coach Chris Mack said in an interview with Louisville Report. "So we made the decision, obviously the smart one, to shut him down. That has healed very, very nicely. It has no issues."
While his right foot garnered all the headlines and local attention, his left ankle continued to also give him problems. Back on Feb. 24, 2020 at Florida State, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound big man suffered a high ankle sprain that limited his availability for the rest of the season.
Under normal circumstances, this would not have been considered potentially a long term issue. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck less than a month later, it left Williams stranded in his home town for three months, without access to a therapist, or any form rehabilitation, due to the quarantine period that ensued because of the virus.
As a result, Williams started to form scar tissue in his ankle. He dealt with this in his ankle for the entirety of the 2020-21 season, and did not get it cleaned up until after the second Duke game, the one in which his right foot injury flared up again.
Recently, Louisville's players, including Williams, have made it back on campus to participate in offseason summer workouts. While Mack says that Williams feels physically healthy, he will gradually incorporate him into team activities.
"We're going to progress slowly with him," he said. "His feet and ankle feel fine, but we want to win the war, not the battle. So that's what we're really trying to do."
For the time being, Williams is taking part in individual workouts and drills with both the assistant coaches and Mack himself. This is in an effort to be "the healthiest Malik Williams that we can get" for the 2021-22 season. While he will likely not participate in 5-on-5 activities this summer, Mack believes Williams will be able to make a seamless transition when that time comes.
"He knows how to run the floor, he knows our system, he's learning some offensive stuff that we've been doing here since last Monday, and he will continue to learn that throughout the summer," he said. "But we want him healthy for the long haul."
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