University of Washington

Back from torn ACL, forward Jernard Jarreau will be key player for Huskies

One year and two days have passed since the day Jernard Jarreau leapt, landed and collapsed, his sophomore season ending before it could really begin.

He hasn’t seen a replay. He doesn’t want to. After months of rehabilitation, the Washington Huskies fourth-year junior forward has no interest in reliving what happened here the last time he suited up for a regular-season basketball game, the night he tore the anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“My coaches ask me sometimes, ‘Do you want to watch it?’ I’m like, ‘Nah,’ ” Jarreau said on Monday, seated beneath a basketball hoop at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, his 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame spilling out of a purple chair just beyond the baseline.

“Seeing my teammates go out there and go to war every day, in practice and in the games, and not being able to do anything but sit in the sideline and watch them just go to work and try to make each other better every day … it was just something I wish I could have been a part of.”

The injury

The friendly, quiet kid from New Orleans is back and healthy this season, and figures to be a key contributor to a Huskies team that, like Jarreau, would probably rather forget about last year.

Washington has missed the NCAA tournament in each of the last three seasons, the longest such drought of coach Lorenzo Romar’s 12-year career. Romar hoped Jarreau would help solidify what appeared to be a promising frontcourt a year ago — he flashed promise in last season’s exhibition game, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight rebounds — but that was scrapped in the first two minutes of UW’s 2013-14 season-opener against Seattle University.

Jarreau stole a pass in the open court and drove to the hoop with Redhawks guard Isiah Umipig providing defense.

Jarreau leapt and raised the ball toward the hoop with Umipig closing in beneath him.

He landed, he collapsed, and that was that.

“You just knew something wasn’t right,” Jarreau said. “Just going down, collapsing like that — it felt like my leg just collapsed and snapped in half. I immediately thought something was wrong. Everybody was in my ear, just kept telling me to think positive and all that. I just knew right then and there, my season is over.”

Watching at home in New Orleans, Jarreau’s mother, Katrina, called his phone as soon as she saw him fall.

“That was my first instinct — to pick up the phone and call my baby,” Katrina said via telephone earlier this week.

When Jernard returned her call, Katrina said, “he was very distraught. He really was. But with prayers and family and calling home every day, checking on him, giving him uplifting words, he really came along good.”

Katrina and Jernard’s grandfather, Ernest, flew to Seattle shortly after to be with Jernard during his surgery. The pain he endured during post-surgery knee extension, he said, was the worst.

“They kind of had me buckled down on a bench or whatever, and kind of just held my leg straight,” he said. “That was pretty tough.”

A hurricane childhood

It was the first major injury he’d endured, but not the first hardship. When he was in seventh grade, Jarreau and his family — his mother, stepfather and four siblings, all younger — were displaced from their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina.

They were “fortunate,” he said, to have evacuated as soon as city officials told them to, two days ahead of the worst of the storm, and to have had family in Mobile, Alabama, with whom they could stay.

Jernard spent his seventh-grade year in Mobile. By eighth grade, his family was back in New Orleans, where they scrambled to find temporary housing so his mother could return to work while their home was being renovated.

“I lost a couple friends,” Jarreau said. “Their families, they just scattered everywhere and I wasn’t able to see them. I saw them as the years went by, but I wasn’t able to see them around the neighborhood like I had over the years.”

Last season, the Huskies scheduled a game at Tulane University, solely so Jarreau could play a game in front of family and friends in his hometown. The injury prevented him from doing that, obviously, but he still made that and every road trip, and Katrina cooked dinner for the entire team in the house where Jernard grew up.

The menu: gumbo, red beans and rice (Jernard’s favorite, his mother says), shrimp pasta, fried fish, fried chicken. And that’s not including dessert.

“It was wonderful,” Katrina said. “We really enjoyed doing that, and I think they really enjoyed it also.”

Post size, guard handles

Huskies assistant Raphael Chillious says he found Jarreau in a back gym during an AAU tournament in Las Vegas.

Others were there to watch one of Jarreau’s teammates on his New Orleans Elite squad. But Chillious’ interest was piqued by Jarreau, who was about to be a junior in high school and had uncommon handles and guard skills for a 6-foot-6 kid.

There’s an explanation for that. Jarreau was only 6-foot-2 as a high-school freshman. Then, as he said, “I sprouted out of nowhere.”

He kept growing, but could still play like a guard, maintaining his coordination and handles. He broke his wrist and missed his junior season at McDonogh 35 High School. When Chillious saw him again, he was 6-foot-10.

“You know how Coach Romar loves players who can play multiple positions,” said Chillious, who knew Jarreau’s AAU coach, Greg Holmes, and used that connection to his advantage. “We looked at Jernard as being that rare type of guy. He’s like a fourth guard. He thinks of the game like a guard, so you can run a lot of stuff through him.”

Jarreau received interest from several colleges in Louisiana, including LSU, and originally committed to coach Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth.

But Romar, Chillious and former UW assistant Jim Shaw kept at it, eventually convincing him to travel west and play for the program he used to watch on television, when fans used to pack Hec Ed to watch players like Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson.

“They understood where I came from, knew that my family is pretty big on family and sticking together, and me having the best education possible,” Jarreau said. “When I came up on my visit, I just kind of fell in love with the program, too.”

Road to recovery

Rehab was a day-by-day process. Pat Jenkins, the team’s head athletic trainer, said Jarreau approached it with the right mindset.

“From Day One, he had a great attitude,” Jenkins said. “The first couple months are a test of anybody’s strength and pain threshold, and he did great.”

Jarreau spent plenty of time on the AlterG, an anti-gravity treadmill designed for injury rehab. Time on the exercise bike. Eventually, sprints. And on road trips, Jarreau could be seen running stairs during practice (these are not fond memories, Jarreau says, particularly the stair sessions at altitude in Colorado and Utah).

Jenkins eventually introduced “jump tests,” a series of distance, speed and side-to-side jumps designed to test both the knee’s physical capacity and to enhance the patient’s confidence in landing on it.

“Just so they can see that even under testing environment, that they can put as much force as they can generate into their jump and be OK,” Jenkins said.

It was during the team’s eight-week summer conditioning program when Jarreau finally started to feel normal, and stopped thinking about whether a wrong step might undo months’ worth of rehab.

“He’s learning how to fight through fatigue, and on the tail end of needing to do that. He’s in a good place, I think,” Jenkins said. “He’s going to continue to work on that, but he’s very near the end of sort of getting over that last hump of conditioning.”

Jarreau, who has gained 50 pounds since arriving as a 190-pound freshman in the summer of 2011, started during UW’s 88-65 exhibition victory over Saint Martin’s and made it through without incident.

He made two of his three field-goal attempts, scored four points, grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots, handed out two assists, committed two turnovers and committed four fouls in 20 minutes.

His rust showed, and some of that is to be expected. But on one particular play, Jarreau showed the ability that has Romar believing he could be exactly what the Huskies need.

Early in the second half, Jarreau took the ball at the top of the key, dribbled into the paint, drew a defender, then dumped a pass to Shawn Kemp Jr. for an easy bucket.

“I just want to have a presence out there on the floor,” Jarreau said. “I just want to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”

That, in essence, is what Romar and the Huskies hope to see the rest of the season.

“Jernard is going to play with the flow,” Romar said. “I don’t care how many points he scores. Those are the type of things he’s going to do to help this team be a better team.”