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Aztecs Lose Starter Balzer to Knee Injury

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A basketball team held together by glue, popsicle sticks and bandages felt another tremor Monday when San Diego State Coach Jim Brandenburg confirmed that forward Keith Balzer will redshirt this season.

Balzer, who started each of SDSU’s first six games and was averaging 11 points and six rebounds a game, has not been able to completely heal from surgery last April 6 on his right knee for tendinitis. And, he has developed a mild case of tendinitis in his left knee, he said, from compensating.

Balzer met Monday with Brandenburg, and the two agreed that SDSU would apply to the Western Athletic Conference for a medical hardship for Balzer.

“I’m happy and I’m sad,” Balzer said. “Happy because I’ll be able to rehabilitate and get stronger, and sad because I’m a competitor and like playing, and it’s going to be hard sitting on the sideline.”

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Although he was averaging 23 minutes a game and his statistics were actually up from last year (10 points, four rebounds), Balzer said he was not happy with his play.

“It was not to the point where I think it should be and can be,” said Balzer, who would like to play professionally after college. “Statistically, I had the same numbers as last year, but I wasn’t doing the little things--getting down and dirty, banging. I seemed to be a step slow.”

Said Brandenburg: “Evaluating his play, he wasn’t able to contribute as much, and particularly with gaining some tendinitis in his good knee, that compounded it. Laterally, he wasn’t playing like he had been. He was having a hard time getting to the boards and doing the things he needed to accomplish.

“The dividends we could get from playing him this year are not enough to justify playing him.”

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But what dividends SDSU has are shrinking. Balzer’s loss is the latest in a series of setbacks suffered by the Aztecs (1-5). He is the third player the team has lost in a week--backup centers Mark and Neal Pollard, SDSU’s two tallest players--quit last Wednesday.

Forward Courtie Miller missed Saturday’s UCLA game with a sore right knee, and swingman Terrence Hamilton missed three games earlier this season with a broken toe.

Miller, who has been contemplating arthroscopic surgery, returned to practice Monday and Brandenburg was pleased with his progress. If Miller needs surgery, though, he will be out about three weeks. A decision will be made by the end of the week.

Still, Brandenburg minimized the impact of Balzer’s loss.

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“Truthfully, this is something the team has lived with for some time,” Brandenburg said. “I don’t think it is a big shocker. What we have to do is close ranks.”

In Balzer’s absence, Brandenburg said Nelson Stewart, freshmen Marcus Banks and Chris Davis and possibly even Tony Clark will get time at power forward. Clark, a transfer from the University of Arizona, will become eligible this week and play his first game Friday when SDSU hosts Florida A&M; in the opener of the Texaco Star Classic.

“Nelson played 28 minutes against UCLA and did a yeoman’s job in there,” Brandenburg said of Stewart, who had five points and two rebounds. “We think he’s capable of giving us positive minutes.”

Basically, though, the Aztecs will be forced to experiment until they can replace Balzer, a 6-foot-8 senior.

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“This week, we need to come up with a different rotation,” Brandenburg said. “It’s not going to be about who’s starting and who’s not. Everyone will get a significant amount of minutes, and we’ll get as many younger players contributing as we possibly can get.”

There aren’t a lot of other options left.


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