Junior guard Trevin Knell, who is recovering from an offseason shoulder surgery, is “inching his way back” to returning to the court for BYU.
But it’s too early to know whether he’ll actually play this year or not.
Last September, Cougar coach Mark Pope told reporters that Knell hurt his shoulder last season but continued playing, adding that he underwent rotator cuff surgery and may not be available until January or February.
“It’s pretty devastating for us,” Pope said at the time.
So for months, Knell has been with the team, supporting his teammates, including freshmen and other newcomers, the best he can. He’s been called “The Shot Doctor” by those in the program because of his 3-point shooting ability and knowledge about shooting from deep.
In the 2021 West Coast Conference Tournament championship game against top-ranked Gonzaga, Knell scored a career-high 20 points and knocked down 5 of 10 3-pointers. During his Cougar career, the 6-foot-5, 185-pound junior from Woods Cross has hit 97 of 251 3s (38.6%).
“We certainly miss Trevin,” Pope said last fall. “His shooting is so beyond elite level. We miss that.”
But Knell could return to action. He’d certainly be a big asset to this team in terms of his 3-point shooting.
“He’s inching his way back. He stepped into a defensive press break drill today,” Pope said Tuesday. “It was only half-court, but he was actually in it, just for one possession. I can’t tell who got more scared, me or him. But he’s getting back. He’s three weeks away from six months, which is a really good marker for him. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Pope said Knell has handled the tough situation well.
“He’s been great. He’s just a mature guy. It’s really hurt us not having him out there just because of the impact he could have. … It’s just different what you can share with the guys when you’re out there with them than it is when you’re not,” Pope said. “Street cred goes away a little bit because you’re not suffering and fighting every day. But short of that, he’s done an unbelievable job helping guys and helping them understand what’s important. He’s taken the onus on himself in quiet times, like halftime, when the locker room is a little sideways. Or when he sees a guy that’s frustrated or down or wondering. He’s been really great with those guys. His role of teaching guys how to grow their shot has been really good. He continues to have a really big impact on this team. It’s nice to see him getting practice reps right now because he helps us in practice reps, too.”
Junior guard Spencer Johnson knows how it feels to be injured and unable to play. Johnson suffered an injury and missed several weeks before returning in late December.
“He’s been really, really great. It’s hard to have a really good attitude when you’ve been injured and then you have to sit for a while and you’re not really sure when exactly you’re going to come back but he’s handled it super well,” Johnson said of Knell. “He’s showed up every day and worked really hard. He’s been a really great friend and mentor to everybody, honestly. He’s been super great for me, being in my ear and helping me out. We’re super grateful for him. We’re really excited for when he gets back because the dude’s a player. He can play, for sure.”
Knell does have a redshirt year available. But would it be worth it for him to return so late in the season? That’s a question that will have to be addressed at some point.
“Certainly we’re getting close to that stage. I think six months is the end of the first week in February,” Pope said. “Then it’s just a calculation.”
Three years ago, forward Gavin Baxter was in a similar situation, having suffered a torn labrum in late September. Baxter ended up getting healthy and playing in the final seven regular season games of the season. He played a crucial role in the Cougars’ upset of then-No. 2 Gonzaga.
“Gav was kind of coming back at the same time that we would expect Trev to be cleared,” Pope said. “Gav’s deal was, ‘This team’s going to the NCAA Tournament. They’re going to make a run and I’m not going to miss it.’ Then COVID interrupted that. … That will certainly be part of the conversation. We’ve had soft conversations about that but we don’t have to dig deep into that until, and if, he gets to 100%.”
Will Knell’s potential return be determined by how the season goes from here?
“It will all come into play,” Pope said. “With these decisions, I think it’s really important that they’re player-led decisions because it’s never going to work for me to force any type of scenario on guys when they’re making career decisions. We’ll talk about it.”
While Knell could return, another talented shooter, freshman Tanner Toolson, has been sidelined for a while due to a lingering foot injury.
“He was out for the last six months of his mission and couldn’t do anything here until the beginning of September,” Pope said. “He’s having a bit of a stress in his foot so the doctors shut him down.”
BYU (14-7, 4-2) at Santa Clara (15-5, 3-2)
Thursday, 9 p.m. MST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM