Colonials star senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu is traveling to Birmingham, Ala., to get his torn meniscus examined by a renowned orthopedist who has operated on Villanova’s Curtis Sumpter and football legend Emmitt Smith. Mensah-Bonsu, who sustained the injury in last Wednesday’s win over La Salle, will miss GW’s two remaining regular season games at least. GW athletic officials are unsure when the 6-foot-9 London native will return. Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz disclosed Sunday that Mensah-Bonsu is visiting orthopedist James Andrews for treatment.
The meniscus is a piece of rubber-like tissue that absorbs shock between the upper and lower leg bones. Tearing the meniscus can occur when a knee twists or pivots with the foot planted and the knee flexed. The injury is common in sports, where constant pounding causes intensified wear of knee cartilage and tissue.
At the end of the first half against La Salle, Mensah-Bonsu hobbled off the court and into the locker room with his head down, forecasting the possible gravity of the forward’s injury. Without their most well-known player, the No. 6 Colonials defeated Fordham Saturday in New York City (see “MEN, women win regular season title”, p. 15).
Fairfax, Va., orthopedist Robert Nirschl, a spokesman for the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, said there is much variance in severity and recovery time in meniscus tears. A patient may be sidelined for as short as a few days or for longer periods of up to six months.
“If it’s a tiny tear in a blood supply area, then a few weeks in a youngster (such as Mensah-Bonsu),” Nirschl said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “If it’s in the corner (of the tissue) and it stays in the corner, you can play in a matter of a few days with the protection of a brace.”
GW head coach Karl Hobbs said he is optimistic about Mensah-Bonsu returning this season. The Atlantic 10 Tournament starts March 8. GW will get a bye in the first round and will play its first game March 9.
“I’m hoping, within two weeks. That’s very optimistic on my part,” Hobbs said after GW beat Fordham Saturday.
Depending on the size and location of the meniscus tear, the necessity for surgery varies, Nirschl, said. A deep tear may hamper walking and could require immediate surgical attention. If the tissue is only partially torn and no other parts of the knee are injured, a brace would stabilize the knee for physical activity.
A tear could result in arthroscopic surgery, a technique that involves inserting a camera and scope into a one-centimeter incision in the knee. The recovery time for the minimally invasive procedure is two weeks to a month.
For athletes, the injury is not uncommon. Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, tore his lateral meniscus and missed three weeks during the regular season. Mensah-Bonsu, whom athletic officials would not make available for comment, has also had problems with his ankles this year.
For the sixth-ranked team, the injury will shift the Colonials’ offensive focus to the perimeter. With Mensah-Bonsu’s absence, senior Alex Kireev will get more time, but his lack of experience could hamper GW’s interior presence.
Junior Regis Koundjia is the most likely candidate to get more time on the floor. The 6-foot-8 forward is still new to Hobbs’ style of play, but could help replace the physical presence that Mensah-Bonsu has on the court.
Hobbs said Mensah-Bonsu’s injury is slightly offset by the youth and experience in his roster.
“I think for us, because of our experience, it allows us to be able to play guys for longer minutes than necessary,” Hobbs said. “We’re experienced. But these are good minutes. I like these minutes. I like for Regis to play somewhere around 25 minutes. I think we’ll be okay.”