FORT WAYNE – Indiana fans at Assembly Hall stood and cheered with 9:59 remaining in the first half of Wednesdays game against Mount St. Marys.
Derek Elston had just entered the contest.
The senior saw action for the first time this season in the Hoosiers 93-54 victory after coming back from a knee injury.
The standing ovation just showed that people havent forgotten about me, Elston said Wednesday. It shows that I matter to this program. Sometimes when you get hurt like that and youre out for so long, you feel like people forget about you.
Coach (Tom) Crean does a good job of keeping you involved and keeping people updated on my progress, but sometimes I feel like Im just not out there playing and people dont remember me. But when I got back out there and I got a standing ovation that made me feel special.
The forward finished with two points and two rebounds in nine minutes.
It was great to have Derek back, Crean said.
Elston and the No. 6 Hoosiers (10-1) play at 7 p.m. today against Florida Atlantic (5-6) at Assembly Hall.
He brings multiple things on and off the court that we appreciate, Indiana junior forward Will Sheehey said. Hes been working very hard to get back, and we just want him to continue progressing.
Elston suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in late October and had surgery Oct. 26. Crean liked the energy Elston showed at Tuesdays practice. One day later, everyone agreed it was time to play.
I felt pretty comfortable, actually, Elston said. I have been practicing for a little bit, but I havent really gone a full 40 minutes or full court, so that part was kind of fuzzy. Conditioning-wise, Im not there yet, especially on par with this team.
My legs were a little woozy, but once I settled down and coach Crean told me not to try and force anything, I felt just fine.
Most thought Elston would return after Christmas. He credited athletic trainer Tim Garl with helping during the comeback.
Coach Crean asked me (Wednesday) if I was ready to go and I said yes, Elston said. I felt pretty good (Saturday) in Butler warm-up and after watching that coach Crean told me it looked like I was ready, he threw me in practice to see what I could do. I kind of held my own.
Elston averaged 4.2 points and 2.4 rebounds last year. He was ready to contribute in any way.
Ive been on the bench for so long, if I could have gone out there to wipe down the floor, I would have, Elston said. To be able to go out there and play now, no matter, I was going to say yes.
Elston said he got his confidence going when he dunked during warm-ups at practice.
It was my first time jumping off this leg to dunk, Elston said. That really right there told me I think Im ready to go.