Slowly but surely, Abdul-Malik Abu is working his way back for the N.C. State Wolfpack.
Abu, a 6-8, 240-pound senior forward and the team’s leading returning scorer, has missed the team’s first four games with a sprained knee ligament.
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said Monday that, while no decision has been made to play Abu this week, he has been cleared to practice and is doing so in contact situations.
“We’ve got him back in practice and he’s had some contact,” Keatts said. “I don’t know whether I’m going to play him this week or not. Right now, if we had to play today, I’d say no he’s not ready. But that could change in a couple of days.”
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Abu averaged 11.8 points and seven rebounds in 32 games last season. He suffered the injury, described by N.C. State officials as a grade 2 sprain of the MCL, last month.
The Wolfpack (4-0) has three games over a three-day period at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas this week. N.C. State faces Arizona on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and will face either Southern Methodist or Northern Iowa on Thursday. The Wolfpack completes tournament play on Friday against one of these four teams: Purdue, Tennessee, Villanova or Western Kentucky.
Whether Abu plays or not this week, he’s shown positive progress in his recovery for the injury.
“I think he’s OK,” Keatts said. “The biggest thing is when you have been off as long as he has you have some rust. If I had to make the decision whether I’d play him on Wednesday or Thursday, I’d probably say no right now. But things could change.”
With Abu sidelined, the Wolfpack has been short one of their better big men. Redshirt senior forward Lennard Freeman has been the lone starting interior player in N.C. State’s four-guard lineups thus far. After missing last season with a leg injury, Freeman is excelling. He’s averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in N.C. State’s wins over VMI, Charleston Southern, Bryant and Presbyterian.
Omer Yurtseven, a 7-foot, 245-pound sophomore center, has averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game while playing just 14 minutes per game this season.
But when Abu is healthy and ready to play, Keatts said he’ll get minutes one way or another.
“Malik is going to play, Keatts said. “Obviously he’s a senior he’s earned his right to play. He’s a very good basketball player. I don’t know if he’ll take minutes away from somebody but he’ll be in the rotation somewhere.”