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Simmons hopes to play against UCLA

Times Staff Writer

It might not rank up there with Kirk Gibson limping to home plate in the World Series, but if you see a USC player hobbling from the bench to the scorer’s table Sunday night at the Galen Center, it’s probably Marcus Simmons, doing what he can to help his team.

The freshman guard, who has not played since last month because of a sprained ankle, said Wednesday that he hoped to play a few minutes against UCLA in the wake of starter Daniel Hackett’s potentially season-ending back injury.

“I don’t think I was going to try to come back, but since Daniel was hurt I’m going to come back and be an inspiration to the team and try to help them,” Simmons said.

The Trojans need all the perimeter help they can get considering that Hackett’s absence leaves them with three healthy scholarship guards -- sophomore Dwight Lewis and freshmen O.J. Mayo and Angelo Johnson.

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Simmons last played against Oregon State on Jan. 24 and has been sidelined since late last month, after spraining his ankle for the fourth time this season. He has appeared in nine games and is averaging 0.2 points and 6.7 minutes.

A day after his ankle proved too painful to make it through practice, Simmons said he lasted 1 1/2 hours Wednesday and was able to participate in full-court action.

“I’m making a lot of progress,” he said. “I was going with a little limp, though.”

The most encouraging sign might have come after practice, when Simmons headed for the trainer’s room to slip on the protective walking boot that he had shunned before Wednesday.

“I was hard-headed earlier and I didn’t want to wear it,” Simmons said of the bulky black contraption that resembles a ski boot. “I was embarrassed for people to see me wearing it, but I’m going to start wearing it because of my health.”

Coach Tim Floyd said Hackett’s injury would present an opportunity for sophomore walk-on guard Ryan Wetherell to “earn a scholarship if he can come in and impress people,” though Floyd cautioned that possibility would also hinge on recruiting obligations.

“We hope with the minutes he has he is productive,” Floyd said of Wetherell, who has played in 11 games and is averaging 0.2 points and three minutes.

Wetherell played five minutes against Arizona on Jan. 31 after Hackett fell in the early going and had to leave the game.

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The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Wetherell said he wasn’t nervous about being thrust into a potentially pivotal role off the bench.

“I’m used to playing with the guys,” Wetherell said. “When I do get out there, I feel pretty confident. I think I will be fine.”

Wetherell, a former Canadian high school star, said the possibility of gaining a scholarship didn’t excite him as much as the prospect of increased playing time.

“A lot of people have scholarships and still sit on the bench,” he said. “Playing time is the most important thing.”

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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