Lobo Kuac tries to be patient as he recovers from injury - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo Kuac tries to be patient as he recovers from injury

Emmanuel Kuac high-fives young athletes during the Richard Pitino Basketball Campon Tuesday at UNM. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

Attitude hasn’t been Emmanuel Kuac’s problem.

The million-dollar smile is there every day, despite every reason for frustration as a variety of circumstances have limited the 6-foot-7 wing from Canada to playing in just 46 of UNM’s 87 games over the past three years.

And Kuac’s elite-level athletic ability has never been in question, either.

When healthy, the fourth-year Lobo is the best leaper on a roster of athletes who held that title on just about every team each ever played on before playing with Kuac.

Yet, despite being the longest-tenured player on this season’s roster (Javonte Johnson is second, entering his third season as a Lobo), Kuac seems to be a bit of a forgotten man. As fans grow excited about a new batch of players helping the program rebuild and who are participating in summer workouts, Kuac continues to rehabilitate a broken left leg suffered six months ago against Utah State, forcing him to watch them all get the attention, the reps and build chemistry.

“I’m itching to go out there so bad. It’s just hard watching sometimes,” admitted Kuac earlier this week while working the program’s youth basketball camp.

Kuac is doing individual workouts at this point and estimates he’s at about 80% full health. But he’s not yet cleared to participate in any contact drills with teammates.

“It’s there some days. Some days it’s not. It’s just part of the process,” Kuac said about his ability to show patience.

“I’ve got good people around me every day pushing me, so that really helps me out a lot.”

Richard Pitino said he understands it’s not easy on Kuac to not be more involved in the summer drills so far, but the second-year Lobos coach has also been through the process long enough to understand there simply isn’t much need to rush a player back in June.

“Eman is doing good,” Pitino said. “… With him, it’s been a lot of non-contact (drills), trying to take it slow. We think by the fall – by middle to late fall – he’ll be ready to go.”

After a disappointing 2021-22 season in which early injuries prevented Kuac from getting to make a good impression on the then-new coaching staff, a whole summer of having to be patient and not participate fully isn’t ideal.

Kuac averaged 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in six games last season. He missed nine of the first 11 due to injury before finally coming on strong over a four-game stretch starting Dec. 19. That was when the Lobos, by then down to their top two centers for the season, were desperate to try anything to add depth in the front court and give freshman 7-footer Sebastian Forsling some help.

Kuac’s transition to the “five” spot – though not really a true center’s role, but certainly one where he was asked to guard the opposing team’s center – showed a lot of promise, despite his never playing the position. By a Jan. 8 home game vs. Utah State, the New Mexico coaching staff moved the hard-working, high-energy Kuac into the starting lineup.

With 3:14 left in the game against the Aggies, he planted awkwardly near the baseline and in front of his team’s bench, snapping a bone in his leg that could be heard by anyone within about 20 feet despite it happening during a game in a loud arena.

Six months later and still recovering, there has been some perspective added for Kuac, who knows his college days are numbered – and any time he can get on the court should be cherished.

“Basketball is a game that can get taken away from you at any point. So every time I come out here, I try to work hard – 100% every day because you just never know when the (last) day is for you,” Kuac said. “… I had a setback, but that can’t be my excuse for everything. So I just gotta go out there every day and play (hard) every time I get the opportunity to, every single time.”

MORE READING: Jenkins heaps praise on Lobo newcomers

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