John Shurna at Northwestern practice

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern junior forward John Shurna returned to practice Wednesday after recently spraining his ankle and is optimistic he'll be able to play in the Wildcats' Big Ten opener at Purdue on Friday.

Shurna injured his left ankle Dec. 23 against Mount St. Mary's and hadn't been able to fully practice since. He's averaged 23.3 points, which ranks him ninth in the country, and 5.4 rebounds per game this season.

"If I'm able to cut and able to just help the team, I want to be out there," Shurna said. "It was fun to be out there [Wednesday at practice.] Hopefully, I'll get a shot Friday."

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody also was optimistic about Friday, but he thought how Shurna's ankle responded to Wednesday's practice would be telling.

"Ankles are weird," Carmody said. "Sometimes it gets better all of a sudden; sometimes it just lingers. Judging by yesterday, it didn't look too good [for him to play Friday]. Today, it looked better. I think each day it'll get better."

Northwestern, which is 9-1, opens its Big Ten season at No. 11 Purdue (No. 12 AP) Friday; hosts No. 19 Michigan State (No. 20 AP) on Jan. 3 and travels to No. 25 Illinois (No. 23 AP) on Jan. 6.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.