Colorado basketball fans likely have seen the last of Deleon Brown this season.
The sophomore guard underwent surgery Tuesday morning to repair a broken left hand he suffered at practice last week. While head coach Tad Boyle stopped short of declaring Brown done for the season, the combination of Brown being left-handed and the fact the Buffs have only five regular-season games remaining, Boyle said "I don't think so," when asked if Brown had even a chance of suiting up again this season.
"Heard it went well and he's at home resting," Boyle said. "We're wishing him a speedy recovery."
Brown got off to a strong start to his sophomore campaign, shooting .389 overall and .378 on 3-pointers during the Buffs' 12 nonconference games after shooting .361 overall and .314 from long range as a freshman. Brown also recorded 14 assists against 15 turnovers in nonconference play.
However, Brown's minutes began to decrease once the Pac-12 Conference schedule began, and in turn so did his production. In 11 league games Brown shot just .275 overall while going 5-for-23 (.219) on 3-pointers, though the bulk of that production occurred on a key 2-for-2 night on 3-pointers in the Buffs' lone road win of the season at UCLA. Brown also recorded only four assists with 10 turnovers within the Pac-12.
Brown's setback continues what has been a consistently frustrating personnel issue for the Buffs this season, with injuries and illness conspiring to keep the CU's rotation in flux. While none of them have been as singularly devastating as Spencer Dinwiddie missing the final 18 games of the 2013-14 season due to a torn knee ligament, or even big man Josh Scott missing eight games in 2014-15 due to a bad back, the Buffs haven't had their full complement of players since senior forward Tory Miller-Stewart went down with a season-ending broken foot after six games.
Boyle traces the manpower problems back to the preseason when freshman Evan Battey was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. Battey also has been sidelined from practice since the holidays after he suffered a stroke-like medical emergency.
"(Battey) and the academic redshirt was a blow to this team, because that kid, he would be playing for us and playing a lot," Boyle said. "You throw Evan in there with Tory, and then Namon (Wright) gets sick and misses a few. Del breaks his hand. But look, that's part of college basketball. Injuries are a part of it. Sickness is a part of it. Bad breaks are a part of it. That's why we try to build depth in November and December. That's why your bench is so, so important this time of year."
Wright played only 15 minutes in Sunday's win against Stanford after a two-game absence due to an illness, but particularly with Brown out the junior guard is expected to resume taking on a workload closer to his average of 24.3 minutes per game when the Buffs begin a two-game road swing at Washington State Thursday night (9 p.m. MST, Pac-12 Network).
Boyle said at the outset of the season that a solid, rotation-caliber player probably would be squeezed out of the mix as the season unfolded, yet it is that sort of depth that has allowed CU to patch its various illness and injury-related holes on the fly. For instance, had Battey and Miller-Stewart manned the post all season, 7-foot redshirt freshman Dallas Walton likely would have played a supporting role. Instead, Walton has started 18 of the past 19 games while averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds — numbers he has nudged up to 5.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in conference play.
"If one guy does go down, we've got guys that are ready and tested," Boyle said. "We know we've been young all year, but it's next-man-up. We're still nine-deep. I've got confidence in everybody that's in the rotation."