Mesa State senior hoping knees hold up for season

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Justin Ashbaugh is back this year, playing for the Mesa State College basketball team. Ashbaugh suffered a knee injury that kept him from playing last season, and is praciticing with a knee brace on.

The bad knee is all good. The good knee, though, is not so good.

Such is life for Mesa State College senior forward Justin Ashbaugh, who missed all of last season after he tore ligaments in his left knee on the first day of school.

“I didn’t even have a chance out here,” he said. “First (pickup) game, second trip down the court. I came down and snap, crackle, pop. I couldn’t even get out of bed the next morning.”

Knee surgery, rehab and watching from the sideline took up Ashbaugh’s senior season. He received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, but then his right knee started aching.

“I think I just over-compensated too much (during rehab) and I lingered over it last summer,” he said. “I saw a doctor back home and he said it was a sprain, do some rehab and rest it.

“I got back here and started going pretty hard and reaggravated it, and after playing Southern Utah, 36 minutes battling the big boys, it swelled up the next day.”

Tests showed two tears in the meniscus, the cartilage that lines the knee.

Ashbaugh has opted to forgo surgery, at least for now, and will play Friday night when the Mavericks open the season in the Colorado School of Mines Classic against Azusa Pacific.

Ashbaugh won’t practice much this season, spending his time on a stationary bike or, when it’s completed, in the swimming pool.

“A lot of practicing is getting to know each other,” said Ashbaugh, who graduated with a business management degree last May and is taking online courses in kinesiology to “learn how to keep my body healthy,” he said, laughing.

With six seniors on the roster, the Mavericks know each other pretty well.

“I think that’s our biggest strength,” coach Jim Heaps said. “They’re experienced. Even our underclassmen, we’ve got a couple of juniors who start who have played a lot and our sophomores are third-year sophomores. They’ve all been through it, nothing’s going to happen that they haven’t seen or experienced before.”

Seniors Aaron Markham and Ryan Mortensen will share the duties at point guard, with 6-foot-3 senior Jase Herl at one wing and Mike Dominguez, a 6-3 senior transfer from Florida International, at the other. Ashbaugh starts at forward and Lance Fite, a 6-7 junior transfer from Glendale (Ariz.) Community Collee, will start in the post.

Sean Flohr, a 6-5 senior forward, will again be the instant offense off the bench, with Brian Kenshalo, a 6-3 sophomore getting minutes on the perimeter. Flohr and Kenshalo went 1-2 in the RMAC in 3-point shooting last season, both hitting more than 45 percent from the arc.

Michael Bear, a 6-7 sophomore, will spell Fite inside.

The one thing the Mavs are lacking is size — Ashbaugh, all of 6-5, is the third option in the post.

“We’re not very big, but we’re big enough, and we’ve got a couple of kids who play bigger than they are,” Heaps said. “It’s a unique team. It’s a team that shoots the ball well and passes the ball well and they’re unselfish.”

Heaps sees a balanced team with a bunch of 10-point, 5-rebound guys, all with their share of assists.

Then again, they all have the ability to go for 20 points a night.

More than anything, they want to win and not leave it up to a committee when it comes time for regional bids, which still stings from last March.

“This team wants to win every game they play,” Heaps said. “Being around this league as long as I have, that’s extremely hard to do, but that’s their goal. They feel like they can beat anybody we play. They want to show up and play well every game.”


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