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October 25, 2006
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NEW YORK - Think about being Curtis Sumpter for one minute.
Your first option last season was to return from knee surgery for a legitimate run at the national championship, but you would not be cleared to play until the final weeks of the season.
You would get to finish your college career with the same group of players - Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Jason Fraser - that you came to Villanova with in the Wildcats' 2002 recruiting class. However, you would give up almost an entire season to make a run at the Final Four.
Your second option was to sit out, accept a medical redshirt and watch Villanova from the sideline during the NCAA Tournament. You make sure the knee is fully rehabilitated to play your senior season in 2006-07. But you play without Foye, Ray and Fraser. You also are without point guard Kyle Lowry, who jumped to the pros after his sophomore season.
What would you do?
Sumpter chose option No. 2 after consulting with coach Jay Wright and his parents, and he is not looking back.
It was a reluctant decision at first, one that caused a lot of heartache because Sumpter wanted to play one final time with Foye, Ray, Fraser and Lowry.
He wanted to hoist the trophy in Indianapolis - the site of last season's Final Four - with those guys. Sumpter wanted one final chance to deliver a championship on his terms.
"The whole process was extremely tough," Sumpter said Wednesday at Big East Media Day. "My parents told me I couldn't come back, that it wasn't a smart decision. At the same time, you want to accomplish your dreams."
Fast forward through the spring and summer, and Sumpter is healthy and ready to go. There is still a gasp in practice when the 6-foot-7, 223-pound forward falls to the ground. Sumpter, who first injured his knee in the 2005 NCAA Tournament against Florida, bounces back up and everything is OK. Practice goes on.
Will Sheridan knocked Sumpter down in a preseason scrimmage and immediately got nervous. There might be some nervousness early, but as the players see that Sumpter is healthy - and that his knee is holding up - all the hesitancy should disappear. Sumpter even admitted that he was treating his knee gingerly at first but now he is getting used to getting knocked around and falling down. It's not a problem for him anymore - he says he's 100 percent.
"He had a great attitude throughout the whole process," guard Mike Nardi said. "He never wanted the focus on himself. He's one of the best players in the Big East, if not college basketball. He pops right up (in practice) and keeps going right after it."
Sumpter's return to the lineup will be a welcome one for Villanova, picked to finish seventh in the conference. The loss of Ray, Foye, Lowry and Fraser hurt dramatically. Sheridan, Sumpter and Nardi will be the nucleus. A host of role players and freshmen ? including Scottie Reynolds ? surround them.
Sumpter averaged 15.3 points per game and was a second team All-Big East selection in 2004-05. His long, painful rehabilitation process is behind him. He is back on the court and ready for one final season. One final crack at a national championship - something he decided against last season.
The Wildcats, coming off a 28-5 season and a share of the regular season Big East title with UConn, open exhibition play Nov. 7 against Holy Family. Sumpter can't wait.
"I knew he felt a responsibility to the seniors and he was working his butt off in rehab (last season)," Wright said. "Once he got cleared, I told him that those guys (his teammates) aren't going to hold it against you if you don't come back. It was very difficult for him, but it was smart."
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