Call it a comeback. Though they've been here for years, players who missed time due to injuries become forgotten to even keen college basketball observers. It's time to reintroduce them.
There are freshmen such as Duke's Harry Giles and NC State's Dennis Smith Jr., top recruits who did not play their senior years in high school due to injuries, but should have major impacts in what could be their only year on their college campuses.
For the purpose of this question, we'll stick to the players who have actually played a college game before. Which players injured last season will make the strongest comebacks?
Illinois was one of the most snake-bitten teams in all of Division I last season. Forward Leron Black (seven games played), center Mike Thorne Jr. (eight games played) and guard Tracy Abrams (zero games played) were all expected to be key rotation players but each missed the majority of the season. Of the trio, Abrams could have the biggest influence on the Illini despite not having played in two full seasons. He missed the 2014-15 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and he missed all of the 2015-16 season after he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. But when the 6-foot-2 guard did play during coach John Groce’s first two seasons he averaged 10.7 points and 3.3 assists.
The eyes of Arizona will be upon Ray Smith, who ranked No. 29 in the 2015 ESPN 100, but missed his entire freshman year with an ACL injury in his right knee. Smith is similar to Giles at Duke in that he also missed his senior year of high school with an ACL injury in his left knee. Now healthy, Smith could compete for a starting role with the Wildcats.
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski started a combined 72 of 73 games in his sophomore and junior seasons, but managed just five games last season before being sidelined with a back injury. His decision to return to the Zags will help compensate for the frontcourt losses of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. So though the Bulldogs will be perimeter heavy this season, Karnowski -- a career 60 percent shooter from the floor -- will give them a solid inside option.
Even with freshmen Giles, Marques Bolden, and Javin DeLaurier joining the frontcourt, there's a reason why Duke wanted Amile Jefferson back for another season. Jefferson was averaging a double-double (11.4 points, 10.4 rebounds) nine games into his senior season before a foot injury shut him down. He'll be the veteran the younger players can rely on and he's the voice that keeps the Blue Devils on point defensively. On a team that will feature a lot of skilled scorers, Jefferson is more than happy to do the grunt work.
Memphis saw what Dedric Lawson could do last season en route to leading the team in scoring and rebounding. With the ankle and foot issues behind him, K.J. Lawson is poised to have a breakout season. Lawson had just cracked the starting lineup nine games into last season before succumbing to his injuries. The 6-foot-7 wing will give new head coach Tubby Smith an additional scoring punch beside his brother.
It's easy to forget what Siyani Chambers has meant to Harvard as a three-time all-Ivy League player because he wasn't enrolled in school last season. The Ivy League doesn't allow redshirts, so Chambers was forced to withdraw after a preseason ACL injury if he wanted to return for his senior season. Without Chambers, the Crimson posted a 14-16 record. With the 6-foot point guard back in the fold, they should again contend for an Ivy League crown.
Iowa State Naz Mitrou-Long may have literally made the most painstaking decision to stop playing last season. He never fully healed from hip surgery in May of 2015 and toughed out eight games before deciding to seek a medical redshirt. The absence of Mitrou-Long's 3-point shooting kept the Cyclones from having a special season. But his return alongside guard Monte Morris should keep them among the Big 12 contenders.
Let's be frank here, Indiana James Blackmon Jr. isn't a welcomed addition because of his defense. But the 6-foot-4 junior guard who averaged 15.8 points while shooting 46 percent from 3-point range will bring much needed balance to the floor offensively. He has been cleared to play since rehabbing an ACL injury that limited him to 13 games last season. Teamed with center Thomas Bryant, he'll give IU a powerful inside-outside combination.
Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews tore the ACL in his right knee during last year's season opener. Despite the grand opening/grand closing of his junior year, he's back and should be on every All-America and Wooden Award watch lists. Matthews averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds as a sophomore the 2014-15 season. The 6-foot-5 guard is a major reason why the Rams are projected as a top-25 team and a favorite in the Atlantic 10.