Los Angeles • In the paint and above the rim. Those are the places Chris Seeley makes the biggest difference for the Utes. It’s extremely hard to make significant contributions from a hospital bed.
At 6-foot-8, with long arms and explosive jumping ability, Seeley made his impact felt on Thursday for the first time since undergoing surgery in December. Unfortunately, it came in an 83-64 loss to UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, about four hours from Fresno, Calif., where Seeley went to high school. His pair of loud dunks provided momentary boosts of energy for Utah (10-6, 2-3), but those shots in the arm were hardly enough to sustain the sort of run Utah needed to mount.
“He was fired up, made free throws and rebounded, hits some shots, had a great dunk,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I thought it was a high-energy game; [he] rebounded and held his own. It’s just scratching the surface. It’s not like he’s every been out of the picture. It’s all part of the process. ... We need to see him continuing to make strides. He’s coachable. It’s good to have another big body in there that’s available.”
Seeley’s nine points and team-high seven rebounds in 19 minutes were significant in multiple ways.
UTAH AT USC
When • Sunday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
First, the Utes needed all the frontcourt options they could muster with freshman forward Donnie Tillman (foot injury) and sophomore center Jayce Johnson (stomach virus) unavailable. Second, Seeley needed to show the coaching staff that he was capable of competing at a high level after missing 10 games due to illness and subsequent gallbladder surgery on Dec. 1.
“We got a couple guys out, got hurt doing their thing,” Seeley said. “I’ve just got to step in and play hard.”
The day after his surgery, sore and moving gingerly, Seeley showed up at the Huntsman Center to support his teammates as they played Hawaii. However, he wasn’t in the clear. Immediately after the first procedure, Seeley didn’t feel like himself but thought it was just the normal recovery from surgery. The fourth day after surgery, he woke up in pain. Seeley ended up back in the hospital for a second procedure because of a “leak.”
Roughly a week and a half after his trip to the hospital, Seeley got back on the court and started working out. He stayed in Salt Lake City while the team opened up Pac-12 play in Oregon so that he could try to get back into the swing physically. He rejoined the team for practice and dressed for the first time last week prior to the game against Arizona.
“Honestly, I feel a lot better,” Seeley said. “I don’t know why or what happened, but I feel completely better than the first half of the season, so I’m glad to be back.”
Seeley said he’s used 5-on-5 periods in practice to help get back into shape, and he’s been doing some extra conditioning. He played just two minutes in Sunday’s game against Arizona State, his first game in nearly a month and a half.
Coming into the season, Seeley figured to give a boost to the Utes interior defense as well as in rebounding and finishing around the rim off the bench.
“It was tough in the hospital going through what I went through, but it feels good,” Seeley said. “I got myself back in shape. It’s hard because, you know, coach didn’t play me because I haven’t competed in a month. It was good to get out there, play hard.”