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Kerr Kriisa feeling ‘better than ever’ as he overcomes mental, physical hurdles of ankle injury

arizona-wildcats-kerr-kriisa-ankle-injury-azuolas-tubelis-ncaa-tournament-pac12-2022-justin-kokoskie Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Kerr Kriisa strolled out for a media scrum on Tuesday afternoon inside McKale, wearing loosely tied sneakers and a red, white and blue headband. Gone were the crutches and boot that accompanied him during Arizona’s Pac-12 semifinal win over Colorado, same for the signature rainbow crocs that he wore for the last time before throwing them into the stands at T-Mobile Arena after the Wildcats beat UCLA for the title.

It was another positive sign that Kriisa could return to action as soon as Friday’s first round NCAA Tournament game in San Diego. “Better than ever” was his response to multiple questions about how he was feeling.

Five days earlier, almost to the hour, Kriisa was wondering if he was done for the season.

“Actually, when it happened, I thought it was over,” Kriisa said. “Like when the moment hit, I felt like my leg was ... I was scared to look down because I thought that it really snapped and it was like (a) completely different direction, but luckily nothing broke, and I still have a chance to play.”

Kriisa, who is averaging 10.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, said he’s been doing “some crazy stuff” with UA trainer Justin Kokoskie in order to get his ankle healed up enough to play. Kokoskie has also helped him deal with the mental side of overcoming an injury.

“You got to believe, and I’m believing and (everything is) going in a good direction right now,” Kriisa said. “So it’s all mental. If I wouldn’t think (that) then probably, my leg wouldn’t be healing as good, too.”

Not surprisingly, Kriisa has found a way to make his healing process “interesting,” as anyone who’s come across his late-night ankle tweets would know.

“You wake up in the morning, you don’t know how your leg looks like, so it’s kind of interesting,” he said. “You just look at your leg and are like, oh, this is new color here again, a little bit purple, a little bit more yellow. You just got to make things interesting for yourself.”

If Kriisa’s looking for additional inspiration, he need look no further than teammate Azuolas Tubelis. Tubelis suffered a high ankle sprain—Kriisa’s is a lower one—on Jan. 20 at Stanford and managed to return to action five days later.

“I think I have fighter’s heart, so ... I want to help my team to win games, and no one can stop me,” Tubelis said. “I see the same thing in him. He’s even more of a fighter. I’ve known him for a long time, and he’ll play soon, I can feel that.”

Tubelis said he doesn’t think Kriisa’s injury is as bad as his, though it looks worse because he hasn’t injured his ankle as often.

“My ankle didn’t look that bad because I’ve twisted my ankle many times, so it doesn’t get that swollen,” Tubelis said.