Noie: Second foot surgery won't rattle NBA resolve of former Notre Dame PF Bonzie Colson

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Listening to former Notre Dame power forward Bonzie Colson paint a picture of his second foot injury, which is a lot like his first foot injury, is enough to make anyone walk with a limp.

Or reach for a bag of ice. Or cringe at the canvas.

When Colson landed awkwardly late in the third quarter of what was his final college game in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament against Penn State on Saint Patrick’s Day, he did more than crack the fifth metatarsal (outside bone) of his left foot a second time in just over three months.

Colson landed with such force and at such an awkward angle that he also bent the titanium screw that was supposed to be so safe and secure, still in the foot from his original injury and subsequent early-January surgery. Screws just don't bend. Ever.

Colson felt more foot pain the second time than when he first broke it in practice in late December. He knew last month that it was bad. He knew it was probably broken.

It was and it was.

Instead of showing his usual swagger striding to the podium Monday evening for a nine-minute senior speech during the annual year-end ND men's basketball awards program, Colson hobbled across the makeshift stage in a walking boot. His crutches were nearby. That’s the way he gets around these days, same as he did for much of winter.

Colson hopes the second time around ends better than the first, which forced him to miss 15 games and play only seven after coming back, then going down. He’s confident it will, confident that he’ll come back just as strong as he was pre-injury, confident that he can find a home at the highest level of professional basketball.

He may have some dark moments at the darkest hours, but he has seldom lacked for confidence. Now is no different.

“Throughout these last two, three months, I’ve really learned about the injury,” Colson said late Monday. “Having the screw in the first time doesn’t really 100 percent protect it.”

The foot felt fine when he returned to the starting lineup on Feb. 28 for a memorable Senior Night showing, though everything but it ached afterward. As much as Colson talked a good game upon his return, he knew the chance remained that the foot might break again. The first time it happened, it was only a partial fracture. It would heal and feel 100 percent, but because it didn’t break cleanly, it could do so the next time.

It did.

A different type of surgery awaited. The one done about week after the Penn State game was performed by Dr. Martin J. O’Malley. A team physician for the Brooklyn Nets, O’Malley also has done similar types of foot surgeries on NBA standouts Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.

This surgery required the insertion of a thicker screw. Bone marrow grafts also were taken from Colson’s hip to help the foot heal.

Like Colson, Durant fractured his fifth metatarsal twice during the 2014-15 season. O’Malley did Durant’s surgery in 2015. There’s been no need for another.

“I got it done by the best guy in the country,” Colson said of the second surgery. “I’m kind of happy I got it done by a guy like that. I’m blessed.”

Colson said the recovery timetable is anywhere from six to 10 weeks. While former teammates Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben are participating this week in the NBA’s pre-draft Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, Colson hopes to heal in time to be rid of his walking boot and meet with some NBA teams at next month’s pre-draft combine in Chicago.

He may not be healthy enough to cut it completely loose for workouts before the June 21 draft.

“It depends on how I’m feeling,” he said. “We’re going to be real protective and cautions about it through this process.”

It’s a rehabilitation process that Colson’s already done, one he didn’t think he’d have to again endure — not so soon after he spent six hours a day in the Purcell Pavilion training room, when he often yelled in anger and pain and frustration as his left calf cramped during another rehab session. Not after he put in all the time and effort to get back, only to now do it all again.

It’s enough to frustrate anyone, but Colson’s not anyone. As driven as he was through his college career to prove his place, he remains similarly single-minded on re-proving himself. The injury likely cost Colson a chance to be selected on draft night, but that doesn’t mean he can’t earn a roster spot come summer. He plans to. He sees the prize; he's going to go get it.

“No matter what’s going on, I’m still going to grind and get better,” he said. “Knowing my work ethic and how I got through it the first time will help.”

As will knowing how Colson competed when he did return after the first injury/rehab process. There was residual rust in the Feb. 28 return against Pittsburgh, but three days later against then-No. 1 Virginia, he was back to the old Bonz. He went for 24 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes. He then averaged 15.8 points and 8.6 rebounds in 30.4 minutes over his final five games. Pretty solid for someone who had done next to nothing basketball-wise for two months.

The 6-foot-6 Colson played over 3,100 minutes in 125 career games. He scored 1,632 points and had 900 rebounds. Still, some wonder if the NBA odds are too stacked against Colson. If he’s broken the same bone in his foot twice, what’s to keep it from happening a third time? A fourth? Will he ever be the same player?

“They can say all that, but my numbers coming back don’t lie,” Colson said. “My career here is a great platform of what I can do, and I showed the world what I can do.

“Another opportunity, another obstacle for me to get over — and I will get over it.”


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Former Notre Dame power forward Bonzie Colson (35) believes his production before and after his first foot surgery will help alleviate any concerns about his professional basketball future. (AP File Photo/FRANK FRANKLIN II)