An optimist would say UNLV junior Derrick Jasper received a positive injury report Wednesday. His basketball season is expected to continue.
But he will miss approximately five weeks, after an MRI examination revealed a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Jasper was hurt late in the first half of the Rebels’ 60-50 victory over Air Force on Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"It’s much better than it could have been, that’s for sure," coach Lon Kruger said. "You hate to miss any games. But you really feared surgery and a six-month rehab. All in all, it’s probably good news."
Jasper declined to speak to the media Wednesday, but Kruger said, "He was down a little bit. It was kind of a mixed bag of feelings."
Jasper, a 6-foot-6-inch guard, has started all 21 games this season. He is averaging 6.7 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Jasper needed microfracture surgery on his left knee in the summer of 2007, before he transferred from Kentucky to UNLV.
"This is completely unrelated. No link at all," Rebels athletic trainer Dave Tomchek said. "Going home (Tuesday) night, I thought the worst. But the majority of his ligament test came back good for me."
Jasper has a second-degree sprain of his MCL, the ligament on the inside part of the knee. Tomchek said "blunt force trauma" caused Jasper’s knee to buckle inward, partially tearing the ligament fibers.
"A complete tear would have been season ending," Tomchek said. "The level of severity isn’t near what it could have been. It’s a very painful injury, and he was in a considerable amount of pain."
Jasper fell to the floor after the Falcons’ Tom Fow drove the lane and charged into UNLV’s Matt Shaw, who was knocked into Jasper. As he was helped off the floor at halftime, Jasper was fighting back tears.
"In respect to Derrick, he has been through so much with his knee, he was basically scared," Tomchek said. "But he’s very mentally tough."
Tomchek said he will start Jasper’s strength rehabilitation next week. Tomchek hopes to have Jasper running some in three weeks, then running and jumping by the fourth week.
"A lot of guys going through the rehab don’t know what to expect," Tomchek said. "Derrick bounces back pretty good. He’s been down this road so much."
The tentative date for Jasper’s return is the Rebels’ final Mountain West Conference regular-season game, March 6 against Wyoming.
UNLV (17-4, 5-2 MWC) is off until playing at Wyoming on Wednesday, allowing Kruger time to plan around Jasper’s absence. Junior guard Kendall Wallace and freshman guards Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins are candidates to fill Jasper’s role.
"Anthony, Justin and Kendall will probably all get more minutes," Kruger said. "There’s a possibility of playing two big guys at a time. We’ve got five or six days here to … see how it works out."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.