His teammates were throwing lob passes, crossing each other over and jokingly trading verbal jabs as they bobbed heads in rhythm with a DJ Khaled beat echoing through the practice facility.
And all Creighton senior forward Cole Huff could do was watch.
That was the routine for several weeks. Pickup games weren’t part of Huff’s recovery process.
He’d been on crutches for half the summer — and then he got back in shape with two-a-day workouts on the stationary bike and the underwater treadmill. He could stand in one spot and take part in dribbling drills. He could get a few shots up. But there was no cutting, juking, sprinting or jumping.
Not after doctors went in to repair knee cartilage — and then found further damage that needed addressing.
“We kind of anticipated it,” Huff said. “They just confirmed it when they went in there. They found a lot more than what they expected. So the whole offseason, we’ve just been trying to get it right.”
He’s almost there.
Huff was cleared to practice with the Bluejays just before they officially began the preseason on Sept. 30. He’s still being cautious, voluntarily sitting out various drills to limit the risk of tweaking the knee.
The unfortunate reality: The CU medical staff and coaches will likely have to help Huff manage that right knee throughout the season. He may miss practices. He may be limited at times during the year. Huff just hopes the surgery makes it easier on him. It got to the point last season that he was getting his knee drained once or twice a week because postgame swelling made it too painful to play.
But he’s feeling great now.
“I’m not really thinking about (the knee) when I’m out there,” Huff said. “I know my body’s not perfect. I’ve had a couple injuries. I just have to be careful.”
Until game day, that is. He’s learned how to push himself through the soreness and discomfort. That was one of the most encouraging aspects to Huff about his junior season. He finished strong despite being hampered by the knee.
The former Nevada player averaged 14.1 points in his final 13 contests, dropping 28 points against DePaul and 35 in a loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. He made 48.1 percent of his shots (39.2 percent from 3-point range). He averaged 6.8 rebounds per game during that span.
Huff has shown flashes of that on the court in recent practices, whether by spotting up for a 3-pointer, pulling up for a jumper or battling on the glass. His teammates gave him a couple of loud ovations after impact moments during his first day back in practice.
“It’s so tough for Cole because he’s the most hard-working person I’ve ever been around in my 20 years of playing basketball,” senior point guard Maurice Watson said. “Now that he can finally do some things in practice — he scores, gets a rebound, or gets a stop — it uplifts us. The team genuinely missed him contributing with us.”
Huff expects to increase his workload as the season opener approaches. He just has to be smart about it.
Said coach Greg McDermott: “He understands it’s been a long process. It’s been six months. So let’s not ruin it.”
Huff is on board with that. It wasn’t easy to sit out this summer as his teammates competed on the court. He had weaknesses he wanted to focus on. He could have experimented with ways to expand his skill set.
But he did go through this two years ago when he transferred to Creighton and had to recover from a thumb injury. And he knows there are still plenty of October practices remaining — plus a promising 2016-17 season looming just around the corner.
“On one hand, it’s a blessing in disguise because you got to sit back, watch and learn while resting your knees, resting your body and getting ready for the long season,” Huff said. “But at the same time it’s tough. You don’t want to fall behind and play catch-up. But I think I’ve been doing pretty well.”