The unknown is the only thing worse than the waiting for Terry Henderson.
The injured N.C. State guard has no timetable for a return to practice, let alone an actual game.
“I’ve never dealt with anything like this,” Henderson said on Thursday.
The Wolfpack (10-7, 0-4 ACC) is getting ready for its first game with No. 5 North Carolina (15-2, 4-0), on Saturday but an ankle injury has reduced Henderson to spectator for all but 7 minutes of the season.
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The 6-5, 195-pound junior tore the ligaments in his right ankle in the opening minutes of an 85-68 loss to William & Mary on Nov. 13. He had surgery three days later and was on crutches until Dec. 17.
A year after sitting out all of last season under transfer rules, Henderson has had to sit and wait some more. Under different circumstances, Henderson might even appreciate all the interest from fans and anticipation for his return.
The Wolfpack could use his 3-point shooting and versatility on defense. He has quickly picked up the “savior” tag from portions of the fan base after the Wolfpack’s first 0-4 ACC start in almost 20 years.
“I really don’t pay attention to all of that,” Henderson said. “I just want to get back to playing basketball.”
For now, Henderson’s activities are restricted to running on an underwater treadmill, some light jogging and stationary shooting.
“I’m just trying to go in every day and do what I can to make my ankle stronger,” Henderson said.
Henderson is not being coy or deliberately vague with his status updates. Like everyone else, he doesn’t know when, or if, he’ll be able to come back and play this season.
“I don’t think that Terry wants to be in a situation where he’ll hurt the team,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
That’s the nature of the injury and the recovery. Henderson started in the opener against William & Mary and was on the floor until the 12:54 mark. Twenty-five seconds before that, he challenged William & Mary’s David Cohn on a layup.
“I was the first man back on defense, when I was pedaling back, I jumped up in the air,” Henderson said. “As I jumped to block his shot, his leg hit my leg, and it kind of turned sideways.”
And as soon as Henderson landed, he knew something was wrong.
“I told (athletic trainer) Ryan (Holleman) my leg felt numb,” Henderson said. “It wasn’t a regular little ankle sprain.”
No, it wasn’t. Henderson suffered ligament damage, and the injury required surgery. To listen to Henderson describe what the doctors did to repair his ankle, it sounds like MacGyver performed the surgery.
“They took metal buttons and put them on the outside of my ankle and wrapped a couple of wires around the ligaments to keep it stable,” Henderson said. “They added some stable pins on the other side, too.”
While Henderson mends, and bides his time, Gottfried plays his own waiting game. Henderson averaged 11.7 points per game for West Virginia during the 2013-14 season. He made 47 3-pointers.
It’s not fair to label Henderson, who’s from Raleigh, a savior but his presence in the lineup would have taken pressure of freshman Maverick Rowan and sophomore Caleb Martin to do as much as they have had to do without him.
“There hasn’t been a time, and there won’t be a time that we allow that to be any type of excuse for our team,” Gottfried said.
Rowan and Martin are both good players, Gottfried said, and both had good games outside the ACC but have struggled in league play from the 3-point line. Rowan (10 of 32) and Martin (8 of 36) haven’t been consistent enough from the outside in ACC play to help a limited N.C. State rotation.
After Thursday’s 85-78 home loss to Florida State, Gottfried bottom-lined the effect of Martin and Rowan’s shooting woes.
“For our team to be good, he and Maverick need to make open shots,” Gottfried said. “It’s just that simple.”
There’s nothing simple about Henderson’s injury and recovery. As a transfer, he has already sat out a season. Under the normal NCAA clock, athletes get five years to complete four seasons of eligibility. Since Henderson already used a redshirt year, he would have to apply to the NCAA for a sixth year. There’s nothing simple about that process, either.
That’s a question for down the road, though, and Henderson will wait to cross that point when he gets there. For now, he’s trying to encourage Martin and Rowan and help in any way he can.
“Everything happens for a reason; I’m a firm believer in that,” Henderson said. “I just have to stay focused and keep my head up and encourage my teammates to get better every day.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio