Josh Ritchart and J.T. Adenrele have front-row seats to all UC Davis men’s basketball home games.
And that’s the problem.
Ritchart, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, and Adenrele, a 6-7 junior forward, want to be on the court.
Adenrele, a former Oakmont High School star coming off a strong sophomore season, suffered a knee injury in August. Ritchart, who prepped at Forest Lake Christian in Auburn, was having his best season when the pain of a stress fracture in his lower right leg sidelined him after nine games.
Neither had suffered a serious injury before this season. Now, they are learning together to make the most of a challenging situation.
UC Davis coach and former NBA player Jim Les knows what Adenrele and Ritchart are experiencing. Les suffered a stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him in his second year of college.
“It’s a tough adjustment because as a player you are going at it 100 miles per hour, and all of a sudden everything comes to a complete halt,” Les said. “Now you are forced to sit and watch.”
Adenrele tore an ACL during a pick-and-roll drill in practice.
“I did a stop jab with my left foot, and my leg gave out,” Adenrele said. “I started limping but thought I could jog it off.”
Adenrele received All-Big West Conference honorable mention last season, when he averaged 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds and tied the school season record for blocked shots with 46.
“When the doctor told me I needed surgery, my reaction was pure anger,” Adenrele said. “I didn’t hear anything else he said.”
Adenrele’s frustration was tempered by having a roommate who went through the travails of knee surgery two years earlier.
“I think he took it even harder than I did,” said senior guard Ryan Sypkens, a Franklin High graduate who missed a season after tearing an MCL in 2011 but now holds the school record for career three-pointers with 303. “I’ve just tried to encourage him.
“I told him to work really hard at rehab because even while it’s tedious, it will pay off in the end. I also told him to take the opportunity to improve his skills. J.T.’s athleticism is off the charts, but if he can learn to shoot a mid-range jumper consistently, it’ll make him even more dynamic.”
Ritchart hurt his leg during the third game of the season, a 94-60 loss at Utah on Nov. 15.
“I remember landing awkwardly on it,” Ritchart said. “I thought it was something I could play through. I had some big games even after I was hurt. But it got to the point where the pain was shooting from my leg up into my knee.”
Ritchart led the Aggies in scoring (17.3 points), rebounding (6.6) and blocked shots (1.3) through nine games. Despite working feverishly with the UC Davis training and medical staff over the next six weeks, there was little improvement, and the decision was made to end his season.
“It hurts not to be able to play,” Ritchart said. “Everything happens for a reason. You can’t sit back and feel sorry for yourself.”
Les has been pleased with how Adenrele and Ritchart have responded.
“Obviously, J.T. and Josh are limited physically by what they can do,” Les said. “But they have attacked their rehab and all the other things, such as extra (videotape) we give them, as coaches, so they are developing an even better understanding for the game. It’s a mature approach to an adverse situation.”
As observers, Adenrele and Ritchart see the game differently.
“I’m picking up on things the coaches are telling the guys that I used to shrug off when I was playing,” Ritchart said. “Now you realize how important the little details are, simple things like staying in your (defensive) stance.”
Added Adenrele: “I’m learning a whole new aspect of the game, while at the same time my passion and love for basketball grow even more.”
While rehab with assistant athletic trainer Doug Hess can be mind-numbing, it’s nothing compared to watching their teammates endure a disappointing season. UC Davis is 8-19 overall and 3-9 in the conference entering Thursday’s home game against Cal Poly.
“When the team’s winning, I’m happy for them, and I feel like if they’re winning, I’m winning,” Ritchart said. “But it hurts when you see your teammates struggling and you can’t be out there to help them.”
Adenrele said he feels a little guilt with each loss, especially after the Aggies were 14-17 overall and 9-9 in the Big West last season.
“When they’re losing, I wish I could help them,” Adenrele said. “But you don’t know what to say, and you don’t feel you are in a position to say anything.”
While Les remains focused on the Aggies’ last four regular-season games and trying to reach the Big West tournament (eight of the nine teams qualify, and UC Davis is eighth, a half-game ahead of UC Riverside), he can’t help but think about the future.
As medical redshirts, Adenrele and Ritchart are expected to receive an additional year of eligibility. Les’ son, Tyler, a guard, also will be back for his senior year after redshirting this season. Sypkens is the only other senior.
“It’s not easy to lose the quality of players we have lost,” Les said. “We have thrown some of the young guys to the wolves, but they are growing into their roles and are going to be much better next season because of it.”
Ritchart expected to graduate at the end of the summer. Now, he plans to extend some classes into next school year.
“When the season started, I thought I’d never get to play another game with J.T. or Tyler,” Ritchart said. “Sometimes, a blessing comes out of adversity. I’m excited for next year.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.