OXFORD – Andy Kennedy described the return of his junior center as remarkable but then rewarded him with a long ride home.
Having been cleared for contact only the day before Ole Miss lost 77-72 at Florida on Tuesday, Sebastian Saiz played 26 minutes.
He had missed the previous six games recovering from a Jan. 18 surgery to repair a detached retina and a subsequent follow-up procedure.
His first game back included a plane ride to Florida and an unforeseen problem.
“He traveled with us Monday, and the pressure on the plane bothered him,” Kennedy said. “It didn’t do anything to damage the eye, but it bothered him some. He woke up the next day, and it had kind of gone away, so we made him drive back.”
Saiz will be back in the lineup when the Rebels take on Arkansas today at 1.
He was averaging almost a double-double when he was injured and was second in the SEC in rebounding at 9.8 per game.
His rehab was extremely limited, and though he was cleared on Monday, Kennedy didn’t make the decision to play Saiz against the Gators until Tuesday, game day.
“I didn’t practice, I didn’t pick up a basketball in three weeks,” said Saiz, a native of Madrid, Spain. “That was the first time I was playing basketball. I did a shootaround in Florida (before the game), that’s it.”
The most difficult part of being injured, Saiz said, was watching his team struggle when he knew he could have helped.
The Rebels went 3-3 in his absence. Senior guards Stefan Moody and Martavious Newby were also out or limited for part of that time.
“The worst part of it was just me being in the bench thinking that I could help my team win,” Saiz said. “There were so many games that we could have won just for me being on the court. The South Carolina game, the Kansas State game. Those were the ones that hurt most.”
Saiz is not completely healed. A bubble inserted into his right eye is helping the process as the eye fills with fluid again.
For the rest of his life, Saiz will wear goggles while playing basketball.
He had four points on 2 for 8 shooting and six rebounds against the Gators.
“I was blown away. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” Kennedy said. “Not that his stat line jumped off the board, but for him to literally not do anything for a three-week period, and go through two eye surgeries, to go out and play 26 minutes ... I didn’t think his conditioning was horrible, and he gave us a physical presence at the basket that we just have not had without him.”