Slowly, but surely.
Nearly a calendar year since tearing his ACL in his right knee, Arizona Wildcats forward Ray Smith will soon be cleared for all basketball activities.
How soon? UA head coach Sean Miller told CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein that it will happen by the time the Wildcats start practicing, which is on Sept. 30.
Smith was cleared for "everything except contact" on Aug. 21, and for contemporary standards, it’s probably taken Smith longer than usual to get back to full speed on the court.
But it’s been by design.
"My leg’s actually doing really good," Smith told Arizona Athletics*. "I was ahead all the steps that it takes to get back and right now we’re just taking it slow, making sure that I’ll be at the best that I can be when it’s time to actually play."
This is Smith’s second ACL tear — the first one was in his left knee prior to his senior year of high school — so it makes sense to be overly cautious.
And while tearing an ACL in separate knees is unfortunate, Smith is actually glad that it was his right ACL that tore this time around.
"A lot of people ask me, ‘how does it feel that you tore your opposite [ACL]?’ but they didn’t know that I’d rather tear my opposite [ACL] because that means that my last rehab worked," he said. "So if I work hard — if not harder — I know that this one will be fine also."
Smith suffered the knee injury just days after Arizona’s annual Red-Blue game last October, in which he scored eight points in 20 minutes.
He’s been out ever since, but by the look of it, Smith will be able to participate in this year’s Red-Blue game as well.
"I thought about the Red-Blue game last year and how exciting it was and how great it was just to be in that atmosphere and it kind of made me tear up a bit because I missed it so much but I’m really excited," Smith said. "It’s probably the thing I’m looking forward to the most other than the season."
Yet, it remains to be seen what Smith will be able to contribute for Arizona.
The 6-foot-8 forward should be able to play both the 3 and the 4 (he referred to himself a "small forward/power forward"), and coming out of high school he was a five-star recruit known for his athleticism and solid all-around game.
But it’s also been two years since he’s played in a game that counts, so there is a bit of uncertainty surrounding him, although he was deemed to be Arizona’s best player in practice last season before he got injured.
Regardless, Smith will likely wind up being a productive player — we’re just not sure in what fashion yet.
At minimum, Smith wants to become a lockdown perimeter defender, something Arizona desperately needed last season.
"For the most part, I’ve been lifting a lot and it’s helped me get in stance so I’m ready defensively to take on that Sean Miller mentality of stopping every possession," Smith said. "It should be a good year."
Smith and the Wildcats open their season unofficially on Oct. 14 when they’ll play the Red-Blue game in McKale Center.
The Wildcats’ season then officially opens on Nov. 11 against Michigan State in Honolulu, Hawaii in the State Farm Armed Forces Classic — a game that, barring any setbacks, Smith should be ready for.
*all quotes transcribed via ArizonaWildcats.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapireUA