Spencer Dinwiddie was widely regarded as one of the top point guards in the country at the time, averaging 15 points and four assists for a Colorado team that was 14-2 and had begun Pac-12 play with three straight victories.
Most NBA executives had the versatile Dinwiddie projected somewhere in the latter half of the first round.
Then it changed when Dinwiddie crumpled to the floor late in the first half at Washington on Jan. 12.
The junior point guard’s season was history, courtesy of a torn ACL after his left knee buckled while he landed awkwardly.
The silver lining for the Buffs, though, would be that Dinwiddie would have no option but to return for his senior season and Colorado would boast a veteran-laden group with everyone back that could make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
But perception is no longer reality when it comes to torn ACLs.
Dinwiddie opted to leave college despite the fact that he wouldn’t be able to participate in the NBA draft combine or work out for NBA teams prior to the June 26 draft, despite the fact that he had tumbled out of the first round of nearly every mock draft following the season-ending injury.
This isn’t some kid who made an uneducated, rash decision. Dinwiddie is extremely intelligent, spurning an opportunity to play at Harvard coming out of high school in California.
“I understand the stigma,” Dinwiddie said. “When I got hurt, do I want to buy into the stigma or say that Adrian Peterson did it in six months? I know I’m not that man, but I’m still on track to be back in seven months and ready for training camp.”
Dr. Armando Vidal, who has been with the University of Colorado for nearly a decade, performed surgery on Jan. 20 and said that Dinwiddie is well ahead of schedule.
“I’ve been trying to hold him back, but that hasn’t been easy,” Vidal said.
Sure, Derrick Rose and his camp were conservative after his knee injury. Philadelphia held out rookie big man Nerlens Noel all of last season in an effort to make certain he’s 100 percent healthy when he comes back (and maybe also an effort to get as many pingpong balls as possible). However, the stigma of a torn ACL has changed over the years due to modern technology –- and also the example set by the rapid recovery of a guy like Peterson.
“Adrian raised the bar, and it’s unfair to some people,” said Houston-based trainer Russ Paine, who worked with Peterson and is now working with Dinwiddie. “But it’s not as if he had some accelerated rehab. The difference was the level of play he came back at.”
But Dinwiddie is well ahead of schedule, according to both Vidal and Paine.
He’s been sprinting on a treadmill, and recently began double-leg jumping without any pain or setbacks. One reason he decided to go the pro route was he was able to get professional-level rehab with a noted expert such as Paine rather than having to rely on a college staff that doesn’t have the same level of experience and resources.
“That was a huge, deciding factor for me,” Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie will be more than five months removed from surgery when he’s drafted on June 26. He’s not considered one of the top point guards on the board, clearly behind guys like Australia's Dante Exum and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and now also projected to go after UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton.
But Dinwiddie hasn’t lost his swagger.
“I feel like I’m the best point guard in the draft,” he said.
At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, Dinwiddie has the size and strength to play the position. He can score by getting to the basket and finishing (he shot nearly one free throw per every field goal attempt), can make shots from deep (shot 41 percent from 3 last season) and is also able to run a team and create opportunities for his teammates (he had an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-to-1). Colorado coach Tad Boyle raves about Dinwiddie’s character and leadership.
But Dinwiddie has been the forgotten man.
That’s what happens when you sit on the sidelines and watch your teammates squeak into the NCAA tourney after a 9-10 finish that culminated with a 77-48 blowout loss against a medciore Pittsburgh team in the NCAA tournament.
“It was tough,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s not how I planned the season.”
Now Dinwiddie is content with wherever he winds up being selected in the draft. He’s still hopeful an NBA franchise will select him somewhere in the first round, but he also realizes the number isn’t nearly as important as the fit. He also understands that unless you are a lottery pick, there’s virtually nothing guaranteed early in your NBA career.
“I’m going to have to go out and earn it,” Dinwiddie said. “Whether I’m picked 25, 35 or 45. And that’s what I plan to do. I’m just making sure I’m ready and 100 percent for training camp and that won’t be an issue at all. I’m on track to be back well before then.”
Dinwiddie just wants the opportunity. He is accepting that the torn ACL hindered his draft stock, but doesn’t quite understand why -- with the vast number of professional athletes, including Peterson, who have come back and played at an even higher level.
“That’s my plan,” Dinwiddie said. “To show people that a torn ACL isn’t what it used to be.”