Adversity struck Miami Hurricanes forward Sam Waardenburg last October when he suffered a left foot injury during a preseason practice, causing him to miss the entirety of the 2020-21 men’s basketball season.
Nearly a year has passed since that devastating injury, and Waardenburg is excited to return to game action.
“I’m ready to get out there,” Waardenburg said. “Sitting out a whole year when you’re a basketball player, you got that urge, you just want to get out there. It’s like an itch. I’m very excited, and I’m really looking forward for that first game.”
The road to recovery for Waardenburg was difficult, but it was made easier by Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga and his staff.
“The coaching staff did an amazing job of keeping me upbeat and involved,” Waardenburg said.
Waardenburg mentioned that Miami’s coaching staff would task him with reports that he was to complete at the conclusion of every game throughout his year of absence.
“At the end of each game, [former Miami assistant coach Adam Fisher] would ask me to give [Fisher] a report on what I saw,” recounted Waardenburg. “By doing that, I was just learning more stuff about the game that I wasn’t viewing as a player.”
Heading into this season, Waardenburg is expected to be the Canes’ starting center, a position that he has sparingly played throughout his collegiate career.
“At practice I’ve been playing a lot of the five,” Waardenburg said. “It wasn’t really my game when I first [arrived at Miami], but even in previous seasons, just because of the unfortunate injuries that we had when I was playing, I kind of had to take on the role of playing the five sometimes, so it’s not something that’s fully new with me.”
As the starting center in Miami’s exhibition game against Nova Southeastern, Waardenburg finished with four points, four rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
Given his unique ability to shoot the ball from deep as a big, the Hurricanes’ offense with Waardenburg at center is expected to look much different schematically than years prior.
“We’ve implemented new offenses that allow [us] to play a 5-out system because that’s what I’m more comfortable [with], out on that perimeter,” mentioned Waardenburg. “It really helps get the ball moving.”
Larrañaga has harped on the importance of Waardenburg and how vital his return to play is.
“[The team] drastically missed Sam Waardenburg last year,” Larrañaga said. “He was our leading returning rebounder; our leading returning shot-blocker and he is very much a glue-guy. He’s our best big defender, and not having him created a host of question marks in our frontcourt.”
Miami was ranked 173rd nationally out of 340 qualifying teams in rebounds per game last season, so Waardenburg’s impact on the boards was severely missed.
“I had a few guys on the team who’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to sit out a season or two,” Waardenburg said. “I think we all have that same mindset going into [this season]. [We] just want to get back out there and be the best that [we] can be.”