David Pellom is larger-than-life in a display on the front doors of the Smith Center, the top of his name across the back of his jersey just visible as he grips the rim in one of his trademark, high-energy dunks.
Inside the building, the player who set a program single-season shooting record last year is clad in a shirt and tie, sitting on the bench, watching his teammates take the court without him. Pellom, who is rehabilitating from surgery on his left wrist, will be sidelined through at least late November or early December.
It was the second surgery of the offseason for him. He underwent meniscus surgery on his left knee in March.
“It’s tough. Sitting on the sidelines – not being able to get out on the court and run up and down the court, play, take part in practices – it’s just been a tough struggle for me,” Pellom said. “I’m just fighting to get back in shape and get back healthy so I can play.”
Three of the Colonials’ senior members have taken significant time away from the game, and that number raises to four if you count senior forward Dwayne Smith, who missed the first few weeks of last season due to post-concussion syndrome.
As Pellom begins the 2012-13 season on the bench, he joins senior forward Isaiah Armwood, who missed last year due to NCAA transfer rules, and senior guard Lasan Kromah, who missed his sophomore campaign after tearing a Lisfranc ligament.
Though Pellom said he hasn’t talked to his teammates much about his adjustment to spending time away from the game, he said a friend told him to embrace the positives of being on the bench. It gives you a chance, Pellom explained, to get a 360-degree look at the action on the court.
“It’s like being a coach on the sideline. You’re seeing things that you wouldn’t see on the court as a player. You’re trying to give the guys advice, and [you] try to just help them out,” Pellom said. “I kind of have all the plays down in my head now, and in practice, when they call a certain play, I know what every position is supposed to do.”
To have such a large chunk of its senior members spend time away from the hardwood should give the Colonials a unique mental presence – players in the final years of their careers are determined to prove their skills, and passion hasn’t waned after taking the bench.
Armwood, impatient for a return to competition after missing last season, intends to play with that chip on his shoulder. Particularly frustrating for the Villanova transfer, he said, was that his physical ability remained. Armwood had to spend each game sitting next to the coaches, every ounce of his body tensing to check into the action.
“It was rough. It wasn’t what I expected, sitting out there. And I’d never sat out that long in basketball, ever,” Armwood said. “It didn’t feel right at all.”
When watching his new teammates struggle through a 10-21 season, Armwood knew nothing was holding him back – except NCAA rules and regulations.
So, instead, Armwood said, practice became his competition. He laughed at the memory, explaining that the competitive fire, burning throughout games, roared loudest in practices.
“They probably hated me in practice last year. Practice was my games. Knowing I couldn’t play [in competition], I played defense a lot,” Armwood said. “I think I helped them. I think it made them better players.”
This season will be Armwood’s first after an entire year off, a pattern similar to Kromah’s before him. And he agrees with what Kromah described before rejoining the team in his junior season, which Pellom also noted this year: The chance to sit on the bench gives a player a unique opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the team’s game plan.
So far, Armwood has been the most explosive Colonial on the court, adding 16 rebounds and seven points in the exhibition game against Catholic, and 18 points and five rebounds in the home opener against Youngstown State.
It’s the sort of production head coach Mike Lonergan wants from Armwood – especially the 16-board stat line. Lonergan said he hopes the time off made Armwood hungry. And the coach thinks that the ability to practice will make Armwood’s return different from that of Kromah, who had to work throughout last season to readjust to the game.
“Lasan’s thing was, he didn’t practice. The year before I got here, he sat out a year and didn’t play. Isaiah practiced every day and was here,” Lonergan said. “I’m not really worried about Isaiah – I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, he’s got a lot to prove and he really wants to be out there.”
And Lonergan believes Kromah will be better this year, as he seeks to return to his freshman year heights after readjusting last season. The senior guard agrees, adding that he worked all summer to take away lessons from last season’s performance.
Kromah sounds determined when he talks about his second year back from injury. All of the seniors on the team are looking to leave their mark on the program, he said, but it’s clear that Kromah, in particular, feels he has something significant to prove.
He’s got a year of playing post-injury under his belt now. This season will be different, Kromah promised.
“My sophomore year, I didn’t play basketball for eight months,” Kromah said. “But last year, I had a whole year of playing. Practicing, getting better, getting a feel for the game better. This year is going to be better.”