Winthrop's Andy Buechert, who was forced to sit out this season after tearing the ACL in his right knee in August, is well on his way to recovery.
Buechert, 6-9, had surgery on Sept. 12, started rehabilitation the next day and crossed the five-month mark in his recovery on Feb. 12. The next milestone is March 12, when, with approval from team doctors, he'll get the go ahead to return to normal activity.
Buechert is shooting, lifting weights, continuing exercises to strengthen his knee and running but only in a straight line and usually on a treadmill. He's not allowed to make any moves involving cutting.
He's trying to get up about 200 shots a day, plus working on a jumphook with either hand. He shoots from five spots on the floor, making 20 at each spot and works on free throws.
He's also up 25 pounds to 245 and has made improvement in his upper body strength. His bench press has increased to 275 pounds. Before the surgery he was pressing 700 pounds with his legs. Right now, he's doing 500 pounds.
"I'm trying to get bigger without losing any agility," he said, and adds that "after five months, there's no swelling (in the knee) and it feels normal."
Watching the struggles his teammates have been through on the court has been movtivation, he said, "to get better."
"I see the young kids getting experience, so maybe (the injury) was a good thing," said Buechert, who would have been a senior this year. "I'm trying to see the positives. It's tough to watch the games and not be able to do anything about it, but I think we'll be much better next year. I see some talent out there."
He'll begin individual workouts with coaches in the spring, and they hope to help him land a spot on a summer touring team in to get him eight or 10 games against real competition. He may also attend Pete Newell's big man camp in Las Vegas in August.
Buechert, 6-9 transfer Matt Morgan and 6-7 redshirt freshman Gideon Gamble with give the Eagles more size and athleticism next year.
TOURNEY PICTURE: By beating Gardner-Webb, Winthrop improved to 7-9 in the league and kept alive its chance to finish fourth, but the Eagles need to win their final two games and get some help.
UNC Asheville (9-7), which won at High Point on Wednesday, needs one win in its final two games -- at home Saturday vs. Coastal Carolina or at Presbyterian on Feb. 28 -- to clinch the fourth home seed. The Bulldogs still have a shot at 11 wins and a possible No. 3 finish.
Radford, VMI and Liberty have clinched first round home games.
UNCA, Winthrop and Gardner-Webb (7-9) could still finish in a 9-9 deadlock. If so, the Eagles have the edge. With a sweep of UNCA and a spilt with GW, the Eagles would be 3-1 against the other two. UNCA would be 2-2, GW 1-3.
Winthrop, with two losses, could still finish as low as seventh.
TAKING A YEAR OFF: Presbyterian won't be eligible for the Big South Conference tournament and the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid until the 2011-2012 season, but coach Gregg Nibert plans to redshirt sophomores Al'Lonzo Coleman, Pierre Miller and Josh Johnson -- all starters this season -- next year. In 2011-12 they will be fifth-year seniors.
"This season, those guys have learned how to compete in the Big South," Nibert said after Saturday's loss to Winthrop. "It will be difficult with them sitting out next year, but that's what we're planning to do."
HARRIS FILE: Coastal Carolina's Joseph Harris had 14 points and 14 rebounds in Monday's loss to Liberty, his 16th double-double of the season.
In last Saturday's upset of VMI, Harris had a career-high 33 points and tied a school record with 22 rebounds.
He's had eight straight games of at least 10 rebounds, while increasing his scoring average to 15.1 and his league-best rebounding mark to 11.1. He's also leading the league in field goal percentage (.571) and offensive rebounds (4.71).
3-POINTERS: Liberty has 20 wins for the first time since 1996-97 and the fifth time in program history ... If Radford finishes first in the regular season, it would be the first time in league history a team has gone from seventh the previous season to first. The most recent team to make such a leap was Winthrop, which went from fifth in 1997-98 to first in 1998-99 ... UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach won his 105th regular season Big South game on Wednesday to move past former Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall for second place on the all-time list ... Coastal Carolina point guard Mario Sisinni remains sidelined with a severe ankle sprain.
BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE