Noie: Notre Dame seniors Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell take different paths along recovery road

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

One of the longest, most frustrating, most soul-searching weeks in the basketball life of Notre Dame senior point guard Matt Farrell is just about finished.

How it ends remains a story waiting to be written. Farrell has missed the last two and a half games of Atlantic Coast Conference play after suffering a sprained left ankle late in the first half of the Jan. 3 game against North Carolina State. Will Farrell give it a go Saturday in front of a sellout Purcell Pavilion crowd with No. 20 North Carolina in town? Will he continue to ride on the cautious side and give his leg and his body and his mind a few more days to heal?

“I’m trying to get back as soon as I can,” Farrell said Thursday afternoon from the training room, a place that has become his home away from home.

If it were up to coach Mike Brey, Farrell would remain a spectator for this one. No use risking everything for the fifth game of league play when 13 more remain. Brey wouldn’t rule Farrell absolutely out for North Carolina like he did in previous games against Syracuse and Georgia Tech, but he wasn’t exactly optimistic.

“He’s a lot better, but I think it’s really a long shot that he goes Saturday,” Brey said. “I think Tuesday (at home against Louisville) is more realistic. Man, I don’t want to push that.”

If Brey had his way, Notre Dame would find enough firepower to do enough against Carolina and Louisville and then Jan. 20 at No. 19 Clemson to not need Farrell. Notre Dame gets a six-day break from game action following the Clemson contest. That would be the perfect time for Farrell (15.9 ppg., 5.0 apg.) to get his basketball legs back under him for the Jan. 27 game against Virginia Tech.

But Farrell’s also cognizant of the calendar. Each passing day takes him closer to the end of the season. The end of his collegiate career. He understands taking it slow, but he also knows that there are only a certain number of days and games remaining. Every one is paramount to him.

Especially this one. Against the defending national champions. In ESPN’s prime-time slot. In front of a sellout crowd. Farrell’s a big-game guy, and it doesn’t get much bigger than this one.

Farrell has spent seven hours a day – every day - in the training room. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., he’s had some sort of ankle appointment. Ice. Whirlpool. Massage. Rest. Light exercises. Rinse. Repeat. Much of the swelling and bruising has subsided. He recently started running on the treadmill. On Thursday, he planned to shoot around. He’s close, but close might not be enough.

Or would it?

“If I’m still hurting a little bit but I can play, I’m going to play,” Farrell said. “These are games that I’m not ever going to get back, especially these games coming up.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to get ready for them.”

Training room tandem

Walking into the arena training room Thursday offered a surreal sight. In one room – all sectioned off by glass windows so anybody can see everybody – Farrell sat with his left leg deep in a whirlpool. In another room lay his classmate, apartment mate and teammate Bonzie Colson.

“We can’t get away from each other,” Farrell said. “We’re with one another all the time.”

Notre Dame’s leading scorer (21.4) and rebounder (10.4) is out after undergoing surgery last week to repair a fractured left foot. There are dozens of times a day when Colson looks over at Farrell getting his treatment and Farrell looks at Colson getting his and both just shake their heads.

Like, dude, can you believe this mess they’re in? Together?

How did this happen to the heart and soul of the Irish?

Neither had ever missed a game in their collegiate careers because of injury before this month.

“It’s weird, Colson said. “It’s definitely something we never thought we’d have to deal with. But we’re hanging with it together, getting treatment all day. Legit, every day, to get right.

“We’re still being positive.”

And embracing their roles as senior captains. Everyone was watching when they were healthy; everyone’s still watching now. Colson was as excited and energetic as anyone during the Jan. 3 game against North Carolina State. He was talking to his teammates in huddles, coaching up big guys during breaks.

That carried over during the last two road games. Colson and Farrell remained back in South Bend for treatment, but they often were right there with their guys. FaceTime allowed them to experience the post-game celebration in the locker room at Syracuse. At halftime of Wednesday’s game at Georgia Tech, texts were sent to senior manager Sarah Christie with messages for teammates.

“I want to continue to be a leader, continue to have my voice, continue to motivate,” Colson said. “It’s something that I need to do.”

While both have worked to keep their spirits high and the mood light, there have been dark days. They can only do so much. For themselves. For their teammates. For a program that they believed they could take to heights seldom before seen. Instead of doing it through their actions, they have to work through only words.

“It sucks,” Farrell said. “It’s not fun. It’s not easy. You don’t think things like this can happen and then they do.

“It makes you realize that it all goes by so fast.”

Colson’s calendar

Colson felt something funny in his left foot during practice on Dec. 29 – the day before the conference opener against Georgia Tech. He felt more pain the next day during warmups, but decided to give it a go after getting the foot taped differently. When it worsened afterward, Colson needed an X-ray.

Nobody – not the team doctor, not trainer Skip Meyer, not Brey and certainly not Colson – figured it would reveal anything out of the ordinary. Not after he had just gone for 22 points and 17 rebounds. Guys just don’t do that with a broken foot.

A crack about three centimeters wide was discovered in his fifth metatarsal.

Four days after surgery, he ditched his cast, which had caused the greatest discomfort. He expected Friday to trade his crutches and motorized scooter for a walking boot.

“I hate crutches,” he said.

While Farrell is constantly looking at the calendar and counting the days he’s missed against the days he has left, Colson’s done the opposite. He’s elected to stay patient, and stay positive. When he’s ready, he’s ready. Might be in six weeks. Maybe seven. Might be longer.

“Understand that it’s God’s plan and not get too anxious to play,” Colson said. “My health is the most important thing. This is going to be a long, hard journey.

“I can’t get down.”

Brey hopes that Colson can return for the Feb. 28 home game against Pittsburgh. It will be Senior Night. Brey wants Colson in the starting lineup. Colson dreams of the Irish running a set for him so he might get one more bucket in Purcell Pavilion. There’s also a chance that he might not return.

Might Colson’s college career be over?

“I hope not,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to hopefully play again in a Notre Dame uniform.”

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (13-4; 3-1 ACC) vs. No. 20 North Carolina (13-4; 2-2).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Saturday at 6 p.m.

TICKETS: A sellout is expected.


RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at

NOTING: Luke Maye scored 32 points with 18 rebounds, both career highs, as North Carolina downshifted to a four-guard lineup in a 96-66 home victory over Boston College on Tuesday. The Tar Heels finished with a 58-23 rebounding advantage. That included 23 offensive rebounds. Cameron Johnson, a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh, made his first career start for Carolina and had 14 points with 11 rebounds. … North Carolina is 0-2 on the road in league play with losses at Florida State (81-80) and Virginia (61-49). … The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 21-7, including 4-2 in South Bend. The Irish have lost the last three meetings after winning the previous three. … North Carolina returns two starters off last year’s national championship team that finished 33-7, 14-4. …. North Carolina leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with 27 unanimous first team All-Americans in program history. Notre Dame is second with 23.

QUOTING: “We have 100 percent faith in our team right now. A lot of guys have called us out, but we stick with what we can do and have confidence in ourselves. We’re hungry. We’re motivated.”

-Notre Dame senior power forward Bonzie Colson, out eight weeks with a broken left foot.