Syracuse cautiously optimistic about Onuaku's status

NEW YORK -- Lacking a crystal ball, Dr. Irving Raphael wasn’t terribly interested in making a prediction about what an MRI will reveal on Arinze Onuaku’s right knee on Friday morning, but the Syracuse team doctor was cautiously optimistic.

“He’s in a lot of pain right now but the X-rays were negative,’’ Raphael said. “He’s had problems with his knees before. We won’t know until we look in there but I think the key here will just be rest and the trainers taking good care of him.’’

That may not be the answer Syracuse fans are looking for right now but considering how bad things looked when Onuaku went down, it’s about as good as the news can get.

The big man got twisted with Georgetown’s Greg Monroe going for a rebound under the Georgetown hoop and lay in agony on the floor. Onuaku eventually left the court under assistance and went directly to the locker room, with Big East asociate commissioner Dan Gavitt escorting Onuaku’s parents right to the locker room soon after.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim labeled the injury a "strain," but Raphael clarified that the injury was to Onuaku’s quad tendon, a problem that has plagued the senior his entire career. Onuaku missed his sophomore campaign after undergoing surgery on his left year.

Last year he played on a rapidly deteriorating and fraying quad tendon in his right knee. Surgery this summer alleviated the injury but took him out of conditioning commission.

Onuaku will fly home with his team in the morning and have the MRI in Syracuse.

“Just seeing him go down like that, it was hard to see,’’ Wes Johnson said. “It was especially hard for me because he’s my roommate.’’

No one in the Syracuse locker room was terribly interested in imagining an NCAA tournament without Onuaku.

“We’re only thinking positive things right now,’’ Scoop Jardine said.

When pressed players and coaches said with resolve that they had the makeup to continue without Onuaku if necessary.

“These aren’t the kind of guys who are going to fold or back down,’’ associate head coach Mike Hopkins said. “If he can’t go, they’ll use it as motivation.’

For the Orange, Onuaku’s injury comes with an especially cruel twist in timing. The quarterfinal game against Georgetown marked the first time that Johnson felt right since injuring his hand against Providence on Feb. 2. Unable to even pick up his laptop, he played in games when he could barely feel the ball in his hands.

Finally with ice, rehab and time Johnson fell back into his player of the year stride on Thursday, scoring 24 points.

“We’ve handled adversity before,’’ said Andy Rautins, who had his own bout, missing all of 2007-08 with a knee injury. “We covered for Wes with his hand. If he can’t play, I think we’re more than capable of stepping up without him.’’