Creighton sophomore Jacob Epperson, who’s been sidelined for the past five games, will not be returning to the Bluejay lineup this season because of back and knee injuries.
The decision was made after Epperson spent the past couple of weeks consulting with doctors and deliberating with his parents and CU coaches.
A stress fracture in Epperson’s back likely would have kept him out at least until March. He’d been playing all year with an ailing right knee.
So instead of trying to manage the injuries in pursuit of a possible late-season return, the 6-foot-11 forward will let his back fully heal and will have surgery on the knee. The timing of the decision will also make Epperson a solid candidate for an NCAA medical hardship waiver, which, if granted, would still leave him with three remaining years of eligibility.
“I think it’s the best option,” he said. “Try to get my body back in order. Work, get in shape, get to 100 percent.”
Epperson indicated that once he received the final diagnosis for his back injury — that he’d probably be sidelined for two more months — he knew which route he needed to take.
He’d already missed time in the offseason with soreness in his right knee, which was surgically repaired last year. Once the 2018-19 campaign began, it appeared that Epperson was figuring out a way to adapt. He averaged 7.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 10.5 minutes during a six-game stretch in November and December. He wasn’t ever 100 percent healthy, though.
Then Epperson landed hard on his back early in Creighton’s win over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Dec. 14. He missed the next five contests.
He’s been weighing his options — short term vs. long term — ever since. He ended up thinking more about the bigger picture.
“I want to play basketball for as long as I can,” Epperson said. “This will be a good opportunity to work on my body, and try to strengthen it up and make sure that in the long run I no longer have as many injuries as I’ve had the last two years.”
It’s the third consecutive season that the Jays have lost a key contributor to serious injury — although this time, their roster seems better equipped to replace the lost production.
When starter Maurice Watson tore his ACL in the 2016-17 season, the Jays were left handing the keys of their offense over to either a true freshman (Davion Mintz) or someone not recruited to play the point guard spot.
CU’s best option last year after top big man Martin Krampelj went down was to pull Epperson out of his redshirt season. Epperson was limited as an undersized freshman but ended up averaging 6.3 points during 12 games — a boost that Creighton needed to make the NCAA tournament, according to coach Greg McDermott.
Without Epperson down low this season, the Jays can still lean on Krampelj, who’s returned to form after recovering from an ACL tear. They also have 7-foot freshman Samson Froling and 6-foot-7 freshman Christian Bishop to call on. Froling made all three of his shots at Butler on Saturday. Bishop scored five points in seven minutes at Providence last week.
There was talk in the offseason of Creighton putting two bigs on the court at the same time, but with limited numbers, it’s presumed that the Jays will play small from this point on.
Two weeks ago, Creighton moved 6-foot-5 senior grad transfer Connor Cashaw to the stretch-4 position, where he’ll back up starter Damien Jefferson.
Creighton hosts No. 21 Marquette (12-3, 1-1) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the CHI Health Center.