At first, J’Vonne Hadley didn’t believe the setback was overly serious.
Finger injuries are part of the deal as a basketball player, and Hadley figured as soon as he popped his pinky finger back in place, he wouldn’t have to deal with anything more than some general soreness.
However, it soon became apparent the finger just wasn’t going to cooperate.
Hadley’s solid first season with the Buffaloes came to an abrupt end less than 2 minutes into CU’s home win against California on Feb. 2 due to a fractured pinky finger on his right hand. Soon afterward Hadley endured surgery to set the injury, forcing CU to play without its leading rebounder for the final 11 games of the season.
“I didn’t know it was bad right away,” Hadley said. “I actually went back and watched the film, and I was trying to hit it back in place because I thought it was dislocated. But it kept popping out of place and I looked at coach (Tad Boyle) and said, ‘Coach, something’s wrong with my finger.’ That’s when I knew something bad had happened to it.”
Hadley originally wasn’t ticketed to join the Buffs out of Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. But when the admissions department put the kibosh on the addition of Bobi Klintman — who instead shot .408 on 3-pointers while averaging 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in a mostly bench role as a freshman at Wake Forest — Boyle and his staff turned to Hadley to fill the void.
Despite checking in at just 6-foot-6, Hadley was a beast in the paint for the Buffs, particularly early in the season. He grabbed 35 rebounds in his first four games with the Buffs and also proved adept at getting good looks inside amid traffic, shooting .587 (37-for-63) in his first nine games.
Hadley’s numbers dipped slightly as the Buffs got into Pac-12 Conference play, as he posted four double-digit scoring totals in nine non-conference games but had just three in 12 conference games (not including the Cal game in which he was injured in the opening minutes). Although Hadley’s absence allowed Luke O’Brien to flourish down the stretch, missing the Pac-12 tournament, as well as the NIT, obviously left a sour taste.
“It was tough. There definitely were a lot of ups and downs and long nights,” said Hadley, who averaged 8.0 points and 5.9 rebounds. “I just had to keep reminding myself that my time is coming and everything happens for a reason. I just got to keep reminding myself of that. Some days I was going to come in with not the best attitude and not my normal happy self, so I appreciate my guys helping me through that.”
Going forward, beyond rehabilitating his injury, Hadley is focused on expanding his range. With Hadley and Lawson Lovering in the starting lineup for the bulk of the season, the Buffs typically fielded a lineup with two players who rarely shot from beyond a few feet.
Boyle said during the season that there was no red light in place for Hadley, but next year the Buffs expect to see more of the shooting skills Hadley flashed at the junior college level. In his lone season at Indian Hills, Hadley shot .354 on 3-pointers, including .406 over the final 14 games. He attempted just one 3-pointer this past season at CU.
“I’m almost fully healthy. I’d say my finger is maybe 70, 80 percent,” Hadley said. “I’m working every day. I’ve got physical therapy every morning, just trying to get my motion back. I’m practicing with the team. I can do everything except live contact right now. I’m just trying to get all my skills and my touch back. I’m especially working on my jumper right now. My shot feels better than it ever has.
“I tried not to do too much and do what the team wants. But now they need me to shoot the ball. It’s something they keep reiterating and something I’ve taken to heart.”