On Friday, Utah Jazz center Udoka Azubuike was transported to the University of Utah Hospital where X-rays and an MRI determined that he had suffered a subluxation of his right ankle, the same ankle which had him sidelined for months last season.
Team sources have indicated that Azubuike will not require surgery and will begin rehabbing the injury, which occurred with 57 seconds left in the first quarter of the Stars’ game against the Stockton Kings, while Azubuike was on assignment with the Stars from the Jazz.
Azubuike landed awkwardly going up for a block. He immediately grabbed for his right ankle, the same one that he spent months rehabbing after suffering a severe sprain last season.
To better understand what subluxation is, Dr. Kenneth Jung, a foot and ankle surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers, spoke with the Deseret News.
After falling to the floor Azubuike could not get back to his feet. As play continued on the other end, a Kings player from the bench came over and draped a towel over Azubuike’s ankle.
Officials stopped the game with 42 seconds on the clock and trainers and coaches tended to Azubuike who, at first, tried to get up on his own, but could not put any weight on his right foot. Eventually his teammates came over and carried him off the court.
“You can have sprains where you roll your ankle, which essentially is a ligament tear, and you can have dislocations where the bones literally come out of joint,” Jung said. “In this case, the ankle joint and a subluxation refers to where the bones kind of come out of joint but then they go back.”
Some people who experience a subluxation report hearing a popping noise or even need for the bones to be popped back into place, which could explain why those in attendance thought Azubuike’s injury was more gruesome than it later turned out to be.
Although not broken, or even technically dislocated, that doesn’t mean that he’s in the clear.
“You can have sprains where you roll your ankle, which essentially is a ligament tear, and you can have dislocations where the bones literally come out of joint. In this case, the ankle joint and a subluxation refers to where the bones kind of come out of joint but then they go back.” — Dr. Kenneth Jung,
“If you had a previous injury, that may indicate that the ligaments have healed stretched out, that there’s some instability of the ligaments,” Jung said. “If the ligaments are more lax or flexible it allows the bones to essentially move out of position when he rolls his ankle.”
That could become a chronic problem according to Jung. But, since surgery isn’t an option being pursued as of yet, that could mean that there isn’t significant stretching or instability with Azubuike’s ligaments.
No matter the case, Azubuike is looking at another season mostly spent rehabbing an ankle injury. That rehab and a timeframe could end up being similar to last season’s.
“Obviously there’s enough stretching of the ligaments that it’s more than just your run-of-the-mill sprain,” Jung said. “So you would expect the timeframe of at least a very bad ankle sprain. But it also depends on what ligaments are injured and then how quick he’s able to get stability back in the joints, as well as strength and range of motion.”
The Jazz recently exercised the third-year option of Azubuike’s contract, hoping that with a full year of healthy development they could get a better sense of the type of player he is. Unfortunately that development will once again be stalled.