Chris Hines was bringing up the rear, sprinting behind his teammates in end-of-practice conditioning Tuesday.
"Come on Hines," coach Larry Krystkowiak yelled, "you don't run with your thumb."
The Utah coaches smirked and student assistants smiled at one another. It was funny, to be sure, but the reason they could all laugh was the relief that came with the fact Hines was actually at practice and in a position to be yelled at.
For a change, there was some good news from the Huntsman Center.
Hines, who has not played with the Utes since Dec. 22, made his return to practice Tuesday after sitting out team activities since Dec. 22 with a broken left thumb. The thumb isn't healed and just a day earlier Krystkowiak said Hines was probably a few weeks from playing.
But things changed quickly for the Houston native.
"He doesn't have as much pain," Krystkowiak said. "That was kind of established today."
Hines said he is still in a great deal of pain - although less - but that it's important to him to try to play through it. He broke the tip of his left thumb on his first shot against BYU on Dec. 10.
"The first two games I played with it was very painful," he said. "There were some nights I couldn't sleep it was so bad."
No official word from the Utes on whether Hines will play Thursday against Washington State, but the guard said he intends to.
The big issue was whether Hines could actually play the game with the thumb. He struggled to catch balls and his shooting suffered. The usually reliable 3-point shooter was 1-for-12 in games he played with the injury.
"Once it healed a little more and I was able to catch the ball with two hands," Hines said, "I said why not."
This has been a year of injuries for Hines, although he has missed only two games. He injured his ribs in the exhibition loss to Adams State, then hurt his right elbow on Nov. 19 against Montana State. Three weeks later came the injury against BYU.
"I've never been injury prone in my life," Hines said. "So it's kind of tough for me to deal with all these injuries."
— Bill Oram