But by Monday of this week, a group of Purdue mechanical engineering graduate students were at work building a brace they hoped would get him back on the court for Friday night’s East regional semifinal against Texas Tech. They measured Haas on Monday, he said, and stayed up all night building the brace to deliver it to Haas before he left for Boston on Tuesday.
“They kind of built their own,” Haas said. “Now I’ve just met those guys and just thanked them a lot for everything they’ve done.”
Haas, who at 7-foot-2 and 300-pounds is one of the most formidable forces in college basketball, clutched that brace at his locker at TD Garden on Thursday. He had difficulty explaining what materials were used to build the modified brace — the contraption is made of black fabric and includes Velcro straps and a brown leather belt — but Haas said he was “95 percent sure” that the NCAA would approve it before Purdue takes the floor on Friday night, a requirement for Haas to use it on the court. Still, Purdue Coach Matt Painter said Thursday that it remains unlikely that his senior center will play.
“He didn’t practice the last two days. So I don’t see him playing,” Painter said. “Until he can practice and show me he can shoot a right-handed free throw and get a rebound with two hands. In the last two days he hasn’t practiced, so I don’t see it.”
Purdue originally announced that Haas would be out the remainder of the tournament after suffering the injury. He wound up practicing the day after and was hoping to play in the second round win over Butler, but the NCAA didn’t approve the brace he was wearing. Haas has held off surgery with hope that he can somehow play again before his college career is over. He said he sat down with Painter this week to discuss the risks of putting him back on the floor. The biggest risk is falling on the elbow again and causing more damage.
“He’s a guy that goes off desire to win and desire in the game, and I told him multiple times, even if it’s one minute, it’s worth it to me,” Haas said. “I will just keep trying and keep giving my best effort to be out there. I said ‘I don’t care if you play me or not, you just do what you have to do. If I’m an option, call me up.’ ”
For now, Purdue’s best option at center is 7-foot-3 freshman Matt Haarms, who averaged 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 18 minutes per game as Haas’s primary backup this season, and put up seven points and six rebounds in the win over Butler. They sat next to each other in the locker room on Thursday, with Haarms scrolling through his phone alone as Haas held up his brace for a group of reporters.
“There’s some sort of stuff I never even heard of. This padding doesn’t even have a name yet … it’s pretty exclusive stuff,” Haas said. He eventually put the brace on walked onto the practice floor, where he took part in light drills. Before he did, he couldn’t stop thanking the group of graduate school engineering students that have tried to save his college career.
“It feels good. Those guys understand that I’ve poured my heart and soul into this program for four years, and I’m sure they’ve been fans,” Haas said. “When approached with an option to help us, I’m sure they wanted to give back in every way that they could.”
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