Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie isn’t sure how his left index finger became infected, but this much is clear – it’s a pretty big hit for the Yellow Jackets. On top of causing a longer-than-expected absence, it has also prevented him from doing conditioning work.
Speaking Tuesday, Okogie reaffirmed the hope that he will be cleared to play by the Jackets’ ACC opener at Notre Dame on Dec. 30. The original expectation after he suffered an open dislocation of the finger during an exhibition game against Georgia State on Oct. 28 was that he would be ready to play in the seventh game of the season following his six-game suspension by the NCAA for accepting impermissible benefits in the form of transportation, meals and apparel. The seventh game was Sunday’s 77-70 home loss to Tennessee.
“Obviously, (I’m) thankful that this wasn’t worse than it actually was,” he said. “I’m going to take my time with it and hopefully work my way and try to be back as fast as I can.”
There’s no telling that Okogie would have made the difference in the loss to Tennessee, but coach Josh Pastner has mentioned multiple times the impact of playing without Okogie, who led the Jackets in scoring last season with 16.1 points per game and was named the preseason All-ACC team. As Pastner is wont to say, the team has little to no margin for error, and not having Okogie’s shotmaking skill has been a burden for an offense-challenged team.
It’s conceivable that Okogie could return sooner, but if he returns for the Notre Dame game, he’ll miss (on top of the Tennessee game) games at Wofford (Wednesday night), Florida A&M, at Georgia, Wright State and Coppin State. For a team that harbors NCAA Tournament hopes, every one of those games are crucial. After losing last week to Grambling State – one of the weaker teams in Division I last season – none would seem a sure win.
The wound in Okogie’s finger – an open dislocation is one in which the wound opens from the skin down to the bone – became infected in the middle of November. At that point, his finger was in a splint, but after the infection, it was tightly wrapped and casted.
Until the infection, team spokesman Mike Stamus said, he had been able to get the wound wet. But Okogie has had to keep it dry since, which has raised another problem.
Since the infection, Okogie has not been able to do any conditioning work or practice with the team and won’t be able to resume until he is medically cleared. The concern is that, by running, perspiration could enter the wound and re-infect it.
That being the case, Okogie will be both rusty and not in top physical shape when he comes back. Particularly for a player whose speed and effort are strengths, that’s a problem.
“It takes months to get in shape and one week to get out (of shape),” Pastner said.
Okogie was a little more hopeful than his coach.
“Ever since I was a little kid, all I’ve been doing was running, so it really doesn’t take me that long to get my conditioning back,” Okogie said.
Okogie said that the injury was “scary” and that he thought he might be sidelined for the season.
“Just kind of seeing my finger and seeing my bone, I’m just thinking, This is very major, but it turned out to be very minor,” he said. “So thank God for that.”