Arizona's Loren Woods Recovering

Friday, May 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona center Loren Woods, who had two back surgeries last month in an attempt to rejuvenate his career, said Thursday he expects to be playing for the Wildcats this winter.

``By the time school starts in the fall I should be back to where I was,'' the 7-foot-1 center said. ``I will just have to work twice as hard to be as good as I was last year.''

On April 5, a team led by orthopedic surgeon Rolando Roberto inserted four screws and a plate into Woods' back to stabilize the 12th thoracic and first lumbar vertebrae and repair a compression injury to the disk between them.

Roberto re-entered the area two days later in a second procedure aimed at improving Woods' recovery chances.

``The surgeon wanted to be absolutely sure that he gave the best result possible,'' Arizona trainer Ed Orr said. ``To give Loren the best chance to do everything he wants to accomplish, they thought that it would be the best thing. It's not like anything went wrong.''

The surgery was not mandatory, but Woods decided on it after consulting Orr, team physician Don Porter and other doctors.

``They said this would be the best thing for you,'' said Woods, a transfer from Wake Forest who was an all-Pac-10 first-team selection despite missing the last eight games of the season. ``You don't have to get it done, but you definitely would be putting your career in jeopardy if you didn't get it done.

``I figured I would go through this procedure, feel miserable for a couple of weeks and then be slow for a couple of months.''

He said he hoped to begin running straight ahead the second week of June, running and jumping by the second week of July and be able to play at full speed by the time practice begins in October.

Although opinions varied on his chances of a full recovery, Woods believes his willingness to train and work hard will be rewarded.

``Some doctors say my mobility might go down 5 percent,'' Woods said. ``That is not even noticeable. Some doctors have said I won't have the full range of motion, but I never did a lot of twisting and turning. My game is basically running, jumping and blocking shots.''

A case of valley fever, a fungal disease spread by spores released when the desert is disturbed in areas such as construction sites, apparently set the stage for the injury.

``The valley fever may have infected and weakened the bone,'' Porter said. ``Then Loren fell, and that is when the injury occurred. It's an unusual complication.''

Woods was leading the Wildcats in scoring at 15.6 points per game when he began complaining about back pain in mid-January. He played in his last game, against Southern California, on Feb. 17.

At the time, doctors said he needed rest and rehabilitation. But a bone scan in March revealed the damage caused by the fungus.

``I think I had it in the fall,'' Woods said. ``It got to the bone and it was weakened, but (was) not noticeable to me until I fell against Arizona State (on Jan. 26). I think it put a small fracture in there because it was weak. It could be because I fell and the small area got infected.''

A hard spill during a game against Washington State on Feb. 10 exacerbated the injury, and Woods played in just two more games before being declared medically unfit.