Louisville using helmets in practice

PHOENIX -- Louisville is taking a proactive approach to preventing multiple concussions: mixed martial arts helmets.

Looking to protect players who have had previous concussions, Cardinals trainer Fred Hina came up with the idea of having them wear the padded helmets in practice.

Wearing a black lid that looks like a cross between a skateboard and motocross helmet might look a little odd, but if it helps keep the players on the floor, no one seems to mind.

"We're just trying to be proactive and keep our multiple (concussions) down to a minimum, limit our risk," Hina said Thursday before the Cardinals played Michigan State in the West Regional semifinals. "It may be overkill, but I really think you're going to see it more and more with the focus being on head injuries."

Hina came up with the idea while sitting on his couch watching a football game between Toledo and Ohio last November. A player who had suffered a previous concussion went down with another after being hit, and Hina figured if a football player wearing a helmet could get multiple concussions like that, what chance does a basketball player with multiple concussions have with no protection?

He then went to the sporting goods store and started doing research on the Internet. After buying a couple of boxers helmets and looking at soccer headgear, he opted for the MMA sparring helmet, which is softsided but still provides protection and allows the players to have good vision on the court.

Hina approached Louisville coach Rick Pitino and he was all for it, especially because three Cardinals had suffered multiple concussions. The helmets aren't mandatory, but the players have bought into the concept, even if it does make them look a bit odd in practice.

"Really, it's no different than putting an ankle brace on a guy that's had three or four ankle sprains," Hina said. "You're just trying to limit your risk and hopefully cut down on the possibility of that occurring again."

Guards Peyton Siva, Tim Henderson and Elisha Justice, who all have had multiple concussions, wear the helmets in practice during any drill that might involve contact. The black helmets are made of plastic foam and have air holes on the top.

Hina said he's heard of a handful of other schools getting their players to wear protective headgear for practices, but he doesn't think it's a common practice.