(Photo of Chris Mack: David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While Carlik Jones and Samuell Williamson stole the show in Louisville's Thursday night victory over Wake Forest, another player made headlines before the ball was even tipped.
After suffering a sprained MCL roughly three weeks before the start of the regular season, guard Charles Minlend was finally made available, and made his season & program debut against the Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem.
Averaging 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists last season with San Francisco, many have been waiting to see what the graduate transfer is capable of in a Cardinal uniform.
However, his Louisville debut was not one to write home about, as he logged just a single minute of in-game action and recorded no stats. He saw a couple defensive possessions, and did not appear to be moving with 100% confidence in his knee.
Fortunately, head coach Chris Mack expected this, saying that while Minlend has been released by head trainer Fred Hina to practice at full speed, he noted that he'd "be lying if I said he was ready".
He saw this coming, because he can relate to it. During his playing career at Xavier, he torn his ACL twice. While technically he was cleared to play, there were still mental hurdles to overcome that then-head coach Pete Gillen couldn't see.
"When I came back and I was fully released, there's a part that the coaches just don't understand," Mack said after Louisville's win vs. Wake Forest. "It's like, you're trailing on a screen, you just can't catch up, you're dragging your leg a little bit."
Because of this, Mack felt that he was pegged by Gillen. That the coach thought he "couldn't keep up', and Mack called it "the toughest part of my life". Seeing something similar happen with Minlend from a physical rehabilitation standpoint, he didn't want to have him go through mentally what he did.
"So I pulled Charles aside right after the game, and said, 'Listen, you're not ready. But I'm not giving up on you.' You got to get to the point where you're not thinking about it, you're moving just like you did before the injury," he said. "I'm not going to judge your performance and your play on where you're at now, because I know I know what he looked like before the injury."
As for when Minlend will get back to his pre-injury status, Mack remains unsure, saying that he will probably have to "break through a little bit" in terms of both mental and physical barriers.
"Fred Hina and our doctors wouldn't say 'hey, you're good. You can go out there and go full speed' if he couldn't," Mack said. "So that's the challenge that an athlete coming off of rehab has to assimilate themselves. We've been practicing now and playing for a couple months. Not only is he coming off an injury, I mean there's a lot of missed time and experience and all the other stuff."
Until then, Mack says he will give Minlend every opportunity to practice to keep proving that he can go a little faster, with the hope that he can extend his minutes with each game. While he does not want to hand him minutes at the cost of the team as a whole, he's not giving up on him in the slightest.
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