Stephen Albrecht's redshirt year at the University of Toledo last season was very much unlike the one most freshmen have.
Instead of learning the offense and spending time in the weight room, Albrecht had back surgery twice to take care of a herniated disc.
The 6-3 guard had been playing with the injury, which he said occurred as the result of lifting weights, since the offseason before his senior year of high school. Upon arriving at UT, it became apparent something had to be done to remedy his ailing back.
After physical therapy and all other non-surgical options were exhausted yet with his back still bothering him, Albrecht opted to have an operation.
"I actually practiced the first day," Albrecht said. "Then the second day, I twisted the wrong way, and my back just completely gave out. That's when we decided to go with the surgery."
After the operation, Albrecht was still experiencing back pain, however, so doctors performed a second surgery on his back in December after the previous one two months earlier didn't resolve his injury.
Coach Gene Cross keeps a close eye on Stephen Albrecht as he drills a 3-pointer.
"Last year I was sitting here on the bench and I didn't know if I was going to play again," Albrecht said yesterday after practice at Savage Arena. "My parents and family tried to be supportive and everything, but the reality of it was, it was about a 50-50 shot. If I didn't heal right from the second surgery, the next procedure would have been a serious, serious back surgery compared to the one I had. I didn't know if I would go through with it at the age of 19. It was difficult. It was a hard year last year, to say the least."
Although not completely pain-free, Albrecht has made nearly a full recovery and is playing this season.
"It still kind of affects me a little bit," Albrecht said. "Sometimes I get nerve pain down my leg. I'm a lot better but I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent. But I think I'm the best I'll probably be maybe for the rest of my life. It's just something you learn to deal with and play with it.
"It's affected my game a little bit. I don't feel like I have as much lift or that explosive step I used to feel like I had."
That's a scary thought, because Albrecht is still managing to put up explosive statistics this season for the Rockets.
The redshirt freshman has become UT's designated sharpshooter, hitting 48 percent (13-of-27) of his 3-point attempts. In road contests at Cincinnati and Michigan State last week, he was 10-of-19 from beyond the arc and scored a combined 34 points.
Albrecht is averaging a team-best 18.0 points per game
"He might not be back to 100 percent, but I'll take him at 98 right now," UT coach Gene Cross said.
"Every shot he takes, I think it's going in. As a coach, it's a luxury to have somebody like that."
Still searching for their first win of the season, Albrecht and the Rockets (0-3) travel to Philadelphia this week to participate in the Legends Classic, with games against Cornell on Friday, Drexel on Saturday, and Vermont on Sunday.
"I want to win," freshman forward Jake Barnett said. "I think coming into these next three games we have to just get a win. We can't accept the feeling of losing."
If Albrecht continues to knock down more than 50 percent of his long-range shots, the Rockets have to like their chances for success.
"I don't want to sound cocky, but you want the ball in that situation. You just feel like no matter who's guarding you, you're going to be able to score on them," Albrecht said of his current hot-shooting streak. "You can ask any player, and that's just how they feel when they get into a little bit of a rhythm. You have to shoot to get into a rhythm and shoot to stay in a rhythm."
Cross has encouraged Albrecht to shoot more often and has put him in touch with former Notre Dame 3-point specialist Kyle McAlarney, whom Cross coached while he was an assistant with the Fighting Irish.
"We want him to take on that gunslinger mentality," Cross said of Albrecht. "As soon as you get your opportunity, you have to seize it and take the shot."
No matter what, Albrecht is just thankful to be playing basketball again.
"From an individual standpoint, it's pretty nice just to be back on the court," he said. "It's just something where I'm very fortunate to be back playing. Every time I step on the court, I don't take it for granted."
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