Road to recovery complete, injured players took to bounce back

There were more than 16,000 people in the Carrier Dome the night Syracuse hosted East Tennessee State.

Eric Devendorf didn't hear any of them. Everything -- motion, noise -- stood still after he dished a pass to Paul Harris on a fast break.

"All I heard was my knee pop," Devendorf said. "All those people and that's all I heard."

Devendorf's season was shelved before it barely started, his ACL torn in that December 2007 game. Relegated to the bench and the training room, Devendorf found company for his misery in Andy Rautins.

Just four months earlier, Rautins tore his ACL while playing with Team Canada during the FIBA Americas Championships.

"I felt sorry for myself for about a week," Rautins said. "Then I said there's nothing I can do but get back on the road to getting better."

Any athlete will tell you that rehab is more grueling mentally than physically. The inability to perform even the simplest task coupled with the helplessness of watching a game from the sidelines has crippled even the strongest of athletes.

Rautins and Devendorf tried to find the silver lining in their plight, though they admit sometimes it was tough to find.

"I think it will help us in the long run," Rautins said. "When you play, the game goes by a hundred miles per hour, but when you sit and watch it slows down."

Both have been green-lighted to rejoin their teammates for workouts and practice next month -- Rautins, cleared four months ago, was back competing with Team Canada this past summer in the Olympic qualifying tournament -- and their return, coupled with the baptism by fire of their young Orange teammates, should bode well for Syracuse this season.

But they are just two of a litany of key players whose return -- and in some cases, absence -- will significantly impact their program's production this season.

Here's a look at some of the top players trying to return from significant injuries:

Korvotney Barber, Auburn: Barber was the Tigers' leading scorer and rebounder (13.8 and 6.9) and the nation's leader in field-goal percentage (72 percent) when he broke his left (non-shooting hand). Healed and ready to play, Barber unfortunately will have to stuff all of his work into this season. The NCAA denied his appeal for an additional year of eligibility, arguing that he had exceeded the limit for a medical redshirt ... by six minutes.

Jon Brockman, Washington: The team's leading scorer and rebounder missed the first game of his college career -- an opening-round Pac-10 tournament loss to California with an ankle injury. Though Brockman returned for the Huskies' appearance in the CBI tournament, his ankle never felt right and in May he had surgery to remove bone spurs. He's been fully cleared since then.

Sherron Collins, Kansas: The key cog in the Jayhawks' title defense, Collins had offseason surgery on his left knee. He played one game in Kansas' three-game Labor Day swing through Canada, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes, and he is currently participating fully in individual workouts.

Sharaud Curry, Providence: The point guard, who broke his right foot last year in preseason practice, tried to return in December but played just eight minutes before shutting it down and having offseason surgery. The Friars said Curry is working his way back, and they expect him back for the start of practice.

Farnold Degand, NC State: The Wolfpack's point guard tore his ACL on Dec. 23, leaving NC State without its playmaker. He is on track to return to practice in October, although the junior didn't play on the team's Labor Day trip to Canada as a precaution.

Paul Delaney III, UAB: The Blazers lost their guard four games into the season to a torn ACL. The scoring leader before Robert Vaden came to town, Delaney was averaging 8.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5 assists per game before his injury. Fully participating in preseason workouts, he is expected back for the start of the season.

Eric Devendorf, Syracuse: The senior tore his ACL in the first minute of the second half of the Orange's 10th game. Though he still wants to get more strength and explosiveness in his knee, Devendorf said he's ready to play and is already working out with his teammates.

Levance Fields, Pittsburgh: On Aug. 22, Fields underwent bone graft surgery on the same foot that sidelined him for seven weeks last season. He's expected to make a full recovery, but the latest procedure will keep him sidelined through early October. The Panthers expect -- hope -- that their point guard will return by the second or third week of practice and be ready to go in the season opener, Nov. 14 against Fairleigh Dickinson.

Bobby Frasor, North Carolina: The Tar Heels' backup point guard tore his ACL on Dec. 27 but is fully recovered. Cleared in July for full five-on-five scrimmages, he will be on the court next month when prohibitive favorite UNC gathers for its first practice. Frasor also is awaiting a decision on an appeal to the NCAA for an additional year under the hardship waiver.

Kenny George, UNC-Asheville: Just last week, the school said George, who turned heads with both his size (7-foot-7) and his numbers (12.4 points, 7 rebounds) last year, had undergone two surgical procedures for a serious infection in his foot. George, who first felt pain in his foot during Pete Newell's Big Man Camp in Las Vegas, isn't expected back, coach Eddie Biedenbach said.

Adam Gore, Cornell: The Big Red's sharpshooter tore his ACL earlier this month and underwent surgery on Sept. 18. Doctors are optimistic that Gore, the former Ivy League rookie of the year, will be ready by Cornell's Ivy League season opener on Jan. 18, coach Steve Donahue said.

Danny Green, North Carolina: Sidelined by a myriad of injuries -- including a hairline stress fracture in his elbow -- during pre-draft camp in Orlando, Green is on the mend. He is currently participating in all of the Heels' preseason activities and is expected to participate without limitations in practice next month.

Jodie Meeks, Kentucky: A sporadic season came to a close in February after Meeks, then averaging 8.8 points per game, was shut down with a sports hernia. He had surgery in Philadelphia on April 13 and is expected back next month.

Tasmin Mitchell, LSU: A preseason all-conference selection, Mitchell was done for the season after the third game, done in by a stress fracture in his left shin bone. His expected return and his 14.5 points and 5.9 rebounds will be a nice boost for new coach Trent Johnson.

Patrick Patterson, Kentucky: The most vital cog in the Wildcats' machine, Patterson averaged 38.9 minutes per SEC game before a stress fracture in his ankle sat him down for the final five games. He had surgery on April 2, and coach Billy Gillispie said recently that Patterson was "way ahead of schedule." He is expected to be ready by October.

A.J. Price, Connecticut: The Huskies' long-suffering point guard tore his ACL in UConn's first-round NCAA Tournament loss to San Diego, this following his battle with life-threatening bleeding on the brain his freshman year and a season-long suspension his sophomore year. Cleared last week for practice, Price should be ready for the start of the season.

Andy Rautins, Syracuse: His torn ACL was better months ago, so Rautins rejoined Team Canada this summer in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Rautins said the experience solidified what he already knew -- that his knee was healed and he's ready for the season.

Delvon Roe, Michigan State: The highly-touted incoming freshman saw his high school career cut short by microfracture surgery on his right knee. In August, he developed swelling in his other knee, and when rest didn't reduce it, he had exploratory surgery to remove loose particles. Though not 100 percent yet, Roe has been cleared for team workouts and is expected for practice in October.

Ronald Steele, Alabama: After three surgeries in one year -- microfracture surgery on his right knee and two arthroscopic procedures on his left knee -- Steele feels healthy for the first time in almost two years. He not only is cleared to play but also is playing without any brace.

Kyle Taber, Indiana: The hard-luck Hoosiers took yet another blow in August when Taber, coach Tom Crean's lone returning scholarship player, injured his knee. The senior forward, who played sparingly the season before, underwent knee surgery, and his return for the start of this season remains up in the air, Crean said.

Mike Williams, Cincinnati: The Texas transfer and former McDonald's All-American missed all of last season after rupturing his Achilles during the preseason. The Bearcats expect him to be ready come October.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.