Twenty-five years after Michael Jordan roused the country with a two-word fax – ”I’m back” – Seth Towns got the attention of those in Columbus with a two-word message of his own posted to his Twitter account on Monday.
Does that mean he’ll be back on the court very soon? That, of course, was the implication.
very soon pic.twitter.com/diDpQUrVYW— Seth (@seth_towns17) November 30, 2020
Towns, a graduate transfer forward from Harvard, hasn’t played a basketball game in two-and-a-half-years due to a knee injury that has required multiple surgeries, including the most recent one in January. It’s been exactly 996 days since the fateful 2018 Ivy League championship game when he suffered the initial injury that began a looong-term recovery. In the offseason after graduating from Harvard, he transferred to Ohio State with the intention of completing his college basketball career in his home city of Columbus.
At various points, including when he talked to Eleven Warriors in June, Towns – the 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year – hoped to be ready to play by the time the 2020-21 season tips off. That didn’t happen. His knee wouldn’t allow it. But as time has passed, he’s gotten progressively closer to the point when he can make his debut with the Buckeyes.
Still, even with Monday’s tease of a tweet, head coach Chris Holtmann doesn’t have a timeline of when Towns will play his first minutes this season.
“He's making progress,” Holtmann said on Tuesday. “What that looks like in terms of when he could play, I think it's something that we're evaluating on a day-to-day basis.”
Holtmann wants to see Towns go through more live action, which replicates what he’d do during games, before deciding when to bring him back. How his body reacts and holds up matters a great deal. He said the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder has done “a little bit more” of that recently and is “making progress.”
Given his lengthy recovery timeline, it's smart not to rush him back to action. But in Holtmann’s mind, he also shouldn't be expected to be the exact same type of player he was the last time he played a game.
Towns followed up a strong freshman season at Harvard, in which he averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, by turning into a full-fledged star in his second year with the Crimson. Under Tommy Amaker he shined, averaging 16 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 27.9 minutes per game. A sharpshooter from distance, he made 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers. He turned heads and became the type of Ivy League player who garnered national attention.
At some point, Holtmann sees him regaining that form – only this time as a Buckeye.
“He will get back to that,” Holtmann said. “Is that the end of this year or next year? I don't know. But no question in my mind he can get back to that.”
Just not yet.
“I do think everybody has to understand he's not the same player or athlete right now he was his sophomore year at Harvard,” Holtmann said. “That's too much to expect given a young man that's come off two years. He's really worked hard to get back to this point. I think he feels a great amount of satisfaction and getting back at least in the conversation of playing again. But to expect that kind of production right now I think is unrealistic. And he understands that, but I think our fans are going to have to understand that as well.
“I think he'll have to work his way both into shape and sharpening up his skills and his ability to move and defend. I think offensively, even though he'll have to kind of shake some rust off there, he's a really gifted offensive player. I think defensively is where he's going to have to continue to really grow and get more confident in his ability to move and his knee and his conditioning.”
By the time Towns gets back on the court, it’ll have been over 1,000 days. One-thousand days. To put that into perspective, 1,000 days ago Holtmann was in first season at Ohio State, Justin Fields was in his first semester at Georgia and Duane Washington Jr. was still in high school.
Towns has been rehabilitating ever since then, always holding out hope he’ll get back onto a court at some point. Originally, he wanted to wrap up his college career at Harvard. Instead, he’ll do so at Ohio State.
It’s still unclear when Towns’ chapter actually playing basketball for the Buckeyes will begin. All we know is that date continues to get closer.