BERKELEY-The Cal basketball team's senior center Markhuri Sanders-Frison has played through some pretty acute pain for the past several games, stemming from tendonitis in his left Achilles heel and now, plantar fasciitis on both feet, limiting the 6-foot-7 center's effectiveness on defense.
"Unfortunately, Markhuri's foot has really been bothering him, so it's really limited what he can do," said head coach Mike Montgomery during his weekly press conference. "But, in the last three games, he's only missed three shots. He's been solid in there, but he's really struggling with some foot and Achilles pain, so that's really limited what he can do, so that's something that we're going to have to keep a real close eye on."
Sanders-Frison-who lost over 30 pounds this offseason-is determined to play through the pain because of all the hard work he's put in getting in shape.
"It's disappointing right now, but I'm still going to be able to do my job," Sanders-Frison said. "It's not pretty right now. It's not pretty. They said the only thing you can do for that is treat it and rest, but I worked too hard to take time off. It's just restricting me to certain things in practice, but, as far as game time, I'm ready to go to war. Taking a game off is not in the game plan at all."
Sanders-Frison is having a fine year on offense, averaging 8.7 points and 7.14 boards per game and earning his first two career double-doubles. His latest came last Saturday against Iowa State, when he scored 12 points and pulled down six boards in Ames. Sanders-Frison has recorded double-digit point totals in each of his past three games, shooting 15-of-18 over that stretch, oddly enough due due to his tender feet.
"I'm taking my time," Sanders-Frison said. "Sometimes, I go too fast, and that's when I miss my shots. Now, I have to take my time and position myself right and make the move easier or not have to do a move. I just put the ball in, so I guess you could say that it's helped me on offense, but it's killed me on my defensive rebounding."
Defensively, Sanders-Frison has not been anywhere near as effective as he had been in the early goings, and he knows it.
"I don't know if you watched the Iowa State game, but I missed several hedges where they got easy buckets," Sanders-Frison said. "I just physically couldn't move. It wasn't like I was out of shape. I am just in so much pain that sliding is just killing me right now. I'm trying to cheat, pretty much, and be there early, just taking that chance and telling my point guard which way to send them so I can already be sitting there."
That entails leaving his man a step or two early, a strategy which comes with not a small amount of risk.
"My guy, mostly, was popping, so we were taking that chance in the Iowa State game, and it helped, just being there early," Sanders-Frison said.
Despite his recent absence on the defensive boards, Sanders-Frison has seen the rest of his young teammates step up and really come into their own, something he isn't the least bit surprised to see.
"No, not at all," he said. "I told you guys at the beginning that we're going to surprise a lot of people, and we put in so much work. As long as we get better each day, that's all that matters to us. We don't really care what the media says about us. I mean, we love you guys, but it's in our circle, in our locker room, that's all that matters."
Sanders-Frison's troubles started with some pain in his left calf, and, after that pain was worked out, the real problem surfaced.
"Day by day, the pain started to go towards my Achilles tendon and my foot," Sanders-Frison said. "I have days where I feel good and I have days where it's just horrible. It's real frustrating right now. Just the past few games is when it's really started to bother me. It started hurting in Florida, when I got off the plane in Florida, that's when I started to feel a lot of pain."
Doctors said that overuse and a change in footwear are the likely culprits that are causing the big man's dogs to bark.
"I'm playing in a pretty stiff pair of shoes right now, so they're going to try and get me some softer shoes," Sanders-Frison said. "He says I have real mobile feet. My feet like to move a lot, and my shoes are so stiff that it causes my feet to work harder than they should."
The Bears changed footwear from last season, and the change has not been a good one for Sanders-Frison.
"We had one pair that I didn't like at all, and that's kind of when all the pain really started," he said. "We had this horrible pair of shoes that just tore up my feet and I couldn't walk after practice."
The team wears Nike Jordans, but the ever-jovial Sanders-Frison isn't about to blame the Swoosh.
"I don't want to blame Phil Knight, man, he's a genius," Sanders-Frison laughed. "It's not his fault at all. There are tons of shoes; we're just trying to find the right fit, maybe see if we can get some from last year. I loved the ones we played in last year. Working with our equipment guy, he's doing the best he can, as he always does for us."
Last year's model was also a Nike Jordan, and somewhere in the bowls of Haas Pavilion, there are a few precious size-15s left that may have to be called in to action. Sanders-Frison, by his own admission, goes through more shoes than the rest of his teammates during a season due to wear and tear of games and practices.
"I do have one brand new pair of those shoes, and I'm trying to save those for Pac-10s right now," Sanders-Frison laughed. "I have one for home and one for the road, so we're trying to savor those right now. Those are the ones I liked a lot. I don't have them at home. He has them hidden away from me. He's taking good care of them, so I might be in those tomorrow. I have no idea."
Those shoes may not last for the rest of the season, though, so they may have to go back into the vault after games.
"Hopefully that helps, because this pain is not fun at all," said Sanders-Frison, who was sans sneakers during Tuesday's presser. "I feel some pain right now, even."
While he may not be 100% physically, Sanders-Frison's experience will be invaluable against San Diego State on Wednesday night, a team with whom he is quite familiar.
"I know Coach (Steve) Fisher pretty well; he coached my older cousin, and I always used to go to the games," Sanders-Frison said, referring to Michael Marion, who played at San Diego State from 1999-2001. "I used to go there a lot, so I'm familiar with his program and the type of athletes he recruits. They're very athletic and big and talented.
"They like to get up and down, that I recall. They have a very good 3-4 man, but besides that, we're just going to play our roles on defense when Coach calls them and play hard like we always do. That's our game plan."
Sanders-Frison said that the key to stopping the Aztecs (8-0) will be to play effective team defense.
"We need to play our roles, get help side, rotating, stuff like that, being aware of your man and the ball," he said. "Cuts and box-outs are going to be huge. They're a very good offensive rebounding team. I'm going to have to get in good position tomorrow, hopefully get some over-the-back calls and all that stuff."
With the injury, Sanders-Frison will focus on gaining the advantage by good positioning instead of just brute force.
"Tomorrow's going to be all about position, trying to get low and I think being in a good position will help me," he said.
Stay tuned for BearTerritory's full game preview as the Bears take on the No. 14 Aztecs on Wednesday at 7:30 PM at Haas Pavilion, the first of five straight home dates.