After missing seven games while recovering from a bruised bone in his left knee, it was finally time. Kennedy Meeks, the North Carolina junior forward, made his return less than five minutes into the Tar Heels’ game at Syracuse.
About a minute after he checked into the game this past Saturday, Meeks scored on a layup. A few minutes after that he did it again – and again. Six of Meeks’ eight points came during his first seven minutes back after nearly a month without playing in a game.
“He was big for us early,” Marcus Paige, the senior guard, said of Meeks. “He was the only big guy really establishing an inside presence early in the game. So he was kind of keeping us alive during that stretch where we were struggling offensively.”
For a while Meeks looked like his old self. He hadn’t played in a game since UNC’s 84-82 loss at Texas on Dec. 12, but there were no signs, at least early, that it had been that long for Meeks. And yet still, he continues to work through the knee injury.
Meeks played 14 minutes Saturday – well below his normal work load when healthy. Afterward he said his recovery continues to be a work in progress. He injured his knee sometime in the summer and has since been dealing with a certain degree of pain.
“I feel like I’m passing it, for sure,” Meeks said when asked if he has passed the worst of the injury. “I’m a lot better. I’m a lot farther away from being hurt and me just sitting out again.”
Against Syracuse, the plan for Meeks was for him to play a limited number of minutes. Roy Williams, the UNC coach, told him to expect a lighter workload than he normally would have received.
Meeks said after the game that he could “barely” feel pain in his knee. There’s still a tinge of it there, though.
He’s not sure how he injured his knee. Meeks said he was told by doctors that he likely suffered the injury when he bumped it during a pick-up game in the summer. All Meeks knows is that his knee hurt then, and that it hurt more in late November and early December.
“I fought through it every game,” Meeks said. “The Texas game, it really caught up to me. It just hurt really bad. Tried to do as much as I could before the game, but like I said, I’m happy to be back. I should be practicing full-go this week. Hopefully I’ll be back full-go against State this weekend.”
That’s Meeks’ hope, anyway – to play pain-free against N.C. State Saturday. During the past several weeks, he has worked to strengthen his knee and overcome the injury. He has spent a lot of time working out in the pool, and also on a stationary bike.
“(I’ve done) a lot of core stuff, just to get my upper body strong,” Meeks said. “And when my knee gets back right and I start focusing more on the squats and all that stuff. The biggest thing for me right now is I’ve just got to get my legs back under me. Like I said before, we’ve got a week to do so.”