AUBURN, Ala. – Normally when two guys are battling the same bout of adversity, it’s the veteran consoling and counseling the rookie.
Not necessarily when Auburn junior Chris Denson and freshman Jordan Price simultaneously rehabbed a stress fracture – Denson’s in his left foot, Price’s in his right – over the past few weeks.
“It was hard for me, missing the first (seven) games due to ineligibility – then coming back and having a stress fracture,” said Denson, a Shaw product. “I feel like (Price) was keeping me up.”
Fortunately for the Tigers, two of their purer scorers are fast healers. Price was shelved just before New Year’s, and Denson the week after that, expecting to be absent from the lineup until sometime in early February.
Three weeks to the day after Denson’s last appearance – Dec. 29 against Illinois – both players came off the bench Saturday night against Kentucky, with Denson playing 13 minutes and Price logging six in the second half.
Neither could stem the tide in Kentucky’s 75-53 romp, but they may have shook off the rust heading into Wednesday night’s visit to Vanderbilt.
“It’s not their offense why we need them back,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said Monday after a rigorous practice. “It’s because they bring us a little different level of athleticism and skill at those position. But they can’t hurt us in those areas that’s been making the difference.”
It’s unclear how or if Barbee will adjust his starting five – Denson started all five games he played in December, averaging 15.2 points – but both returning players anticipate more minutes.
“He can’t just put us back out there because the team has been doing good on the defensive end,” Price said. “I don’t want to break them down, so I’m still trying to get back into the shape I was in.”
While Price said his foot was good to go in his first game back – “I’m pretty sure the adrenaline was rushing, so I didn’t really feel anything,” he said – Denson admitted to some discomfort. He continues to wear a padded boot off the court so as not to reaggravate the injury with something freaky.
“At home, it’s stressful,” Denson said. “I’ve got a lot of stairs in my apartment, so the least bit of walking up stairs hurts. Just taking it one day at a time.”
But Denson will wince his way through any pain. He remembers clearly when his idol, Michael Jordan, played a playoff game with a severe flu, so to him, a foot injury is combatable.
What hurt more than his foot was knowing the Tigers could have displayed a better effort against Kentucky – an event which drew the curiosity of Auburn’s campus to the tune of a sold-out Auburn Arena.
“I feel like everybody didn’t play to their potential,” Denson said. “We were just nerve-wracked. They’re a very good team, but they weren’t 22 better than us.”
Denson and Price’s comeback bolsters Auburn’s depth in the backcourt, and there’s no concerns with reintegrating their styles to the lineup.
“Not at all, because Chris and Jordan mesh very well with us,” junior forward Allen Payne said. “We were actually playing pretty good, when they were in the lineup. So I don’t think that will be a problem with them coming right back.”
Barbee said freshman Shaq Johnson, who was benched the first half Saturday due to disciplinary reasons, is in good standing for Wednesday, but whether he’ll regain his starting spot is “a game-time decision.”