Bryce Brown doesn’t like to think about it. And he’s surely not alone.
Around 5:20 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2018, Colonial Life Arena was muted. Hardly a sound emerged from any one of the 14,995 spectators on hand to watch South Carolina try to upset 10th-ranked Auburn. The Gamecocks were leading the Tigers by 22 points late in the first half, but excitement comes to a standstill when a portion of the court is covered in medical personnel.
“It was really scary,” Brown said.
Brown, a Auburn guard, was on the floor when his teammate Anfernee McLemore went down.
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USC’s Wes Myers, while attempting a floater, ran through Auburn forward Desean Murray. The contact caused Murray to fall backward, colliding with McLemore’s lower half as McLemore went up to rebound Myers’ miss.
That’s when the scene became grisly.
“It was really hard,” Brown said. “It was kind of one of those Gordon Hayward situations. It didn’t look real at all.”
McLemore had dislocated his left ankle and fractured his tibia. His season was over. His career was in jeopardy.
“God bless him,” Carolina coach Frank Martin said afterward. “And he’ll be OK. It’s real frustrating as a coach when you see somebody go through something like that.”
On Wednesday, a full eight months after the injury, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl stood behind a podium at SEC Tip-Off and said McLemore is “100 percent.” He’s expected to play for the Tigers when they begin their season Nov. 6 against South Alabama.
“If that happens to someone who’s not a world-class athlete, he doesn’t recover,” Pearl said, “or he doesn’t recover as well.
“Anfernee’s back. He’s 100 percent. Now, is he going to put himself in a rim protecting position like that and get elevated? You can see in practice there are times when he’s holding back just a little bit. I think when the lights come on and it’s live, I think he’s going to be terrific.”
In his shortened season, McLemore led the SEC in blocks (2.7 per game) in 2017-18 en route to being named to the league’s all-defensive team. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward also averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.
The junior is back to a team picked to finish third in a loaded SEC.
“We try not to think about (the injury),” Brown said Wednesday, “but he’s been able to recover great from it. He’s even added more things to his game. I haven’t seen his lose a step in his athleticism at all since the injury.
“He’s recovered really well from it and he’s been lifting everybody up. It’s been really good.”
McLemore detailed his recovery to The Athletic earlier this month. Writer Brian Hamilton reported McLemore recorded a 38-inch vertical leap in July.
“Thirty-eight inches without any pain,” McLemore told Hamilton. “I feel like if I’m doing 38 inches by about the time November comes around, I should be in pretty good shape.”
Pearl on Wednesday compared McLemore to Jordan Bell, a key member of Oregon’s 2017 Final Four team who is now with the Golden State Warriors.
“Last year he was one of the best defenders in our league,” Pearl said. “And he was a good 3-point shooter. So he’s going to be a real factor for us again this year.”
Now matter how hard it is, it’ll be tough to forget how last year ended for McLemore. Pearl can still recall every detail, including the immediate support shown by Martin and South Carolina.
“When Anfernee McLemore went down with such a gruesome injury, it could have certainly been career threatening,” Pearl said. “And the professionalism, the expertise, the quality of the care in an emergency trauma situation at South Carolina, that athletic department, the people in the Colonial (Life Arena), was something that we recognize. We value it, we appreciate it, we talk about it.
“Frank was on the floor with me dealing with Anfernee, trying to get him to calm down. That’s Frank Martin.”