By JERRY BEACH
Special to ZAGSBLOG
BROOKLYN — Hofstra lost more than 28 points per game Nov. 29, when four players were arrested for a series of dorm room thefts on the Hempstead campus.
But the player the Pride is missing the most this year was sitting on the bench in sweats Saturday afternoon, when a tie game at halftime turned into an 83-62 loss to Tulane at Barclays Center.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel accompanied the Pride to Brooklyn one day after SNY.tv first reported he’d miss the rest of the season because of ongoing knee problems.
Coombs-McDaniel underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in April 2011, shortly after he transferred to Hofstra from UConn, where he helped the Huskies win the 2011 national championship as a sophomore. Coombs-McDaniel continued to battle soreness in the knee, though, and underwent another surgery early this fall with the hope that it would allow him to suit up at some point in the 2012-13 season.
But Hofstra coach Mo Cassara acknowledged Saturday that he and his staff had been anticipating Friday’s bad news for a while. Coombs-McDaniel is expected to undergo a third surgery sometime soon.
“It was certainly heading that way, really, throughout the spring and summer,” Cassara said. “He could just never quite get back to 100 percent. We went back, we had another second opinion, they had a procedure early in the fall hoping that would clean it up and get him able to play.”
Cassara said it was too early to determine if Coombs-McDaniel could come back and play next year, but said the 23-year-old Massachusetts native is staring at a “lifetime decision” as he ponders his next surgery.
“He’s got to decide can he play again, will he able to play again, how far away [is he from playing] if he has different types of surgeries, what are the outcomes,” Cassara said. “He’s at that point in his life, he’s 23 years old he’s got to make some life decisions here.”
Cassara said Coombs-McDaniel will return to Hofstra and take a class during the school’s “intersession” period between the fall and winter semester and that he is on pace to graduate in the spring. He also said Coombs-McDaniel would continue to join the Pride on the bench for games once the team returns home to begin its CAA schedule on Jan. 7 against Georgia State.
Coombs-McDaniel’s absence is just the latest body blow for a program that staggered to its seventh straight loss on Saturday. Cassara viewed Coombs-McDaniel as the big-time player whom he could build the Pride around this year and next year as he began to rebuild the foundation with younger players.
“There’s a kid who’s won Big East championships, won national championships, played on a national stage, won prep school championships—everything that kid’s done, as far as a basketball player, is win,” Cassara said. “That was the thing that really attracted me to him when I recruited him out of high school [at Boston College] and when I recruited him to come to Hofstra.”
But Coombs-McDaniel becomes the fifth Pride newcomer — out of nine — whose season ended before Christmas.
“He’s the guy we miss right now,” Cassara said. “He’s that experienced, tough guy who’s won a lot of basketball games, who knows how to make plays. I think one of Jamal’s greatest qualities as a basketball player is he has that unique ability on the court to help out the guys, to make other guys better. And that’s something right now that we lack. We had obviously counted on Jamal to be really that focal point of our team for these two years [and] obviously, he hasn’t played a minute.”