Arizona Wildcats: 5 most significant injuries in past 10 years

Published: Nov. 3, 2016 at 10:34 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:25 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller, in a statement released Thursday, described the heartbreak of redshirt freshman forward Ray Smith suffering his third ACL injury.

"In the 25 years I have been a college basketball coach, I have never felt as helpless as I did when I saw him go down on Tuesday night," Miller said. "No 19-year-old kid should have to experience three season-ending injuries in a 30-month period of time."

Smith wrote in a tweet that he has decided to "step away from the game for good," although he'll still be involved with the team and stay on campus as a student.

Rarely has an Arizona athlete with so much potential had a career end so early, in such a way that tugs at your heartstrings. It got us thinking. What have been the most impactful/heartbreaking injuries at Arizona in the past 10 years?

This is what we came up with:

5. Ray Smith

Wildcats fans got to see Smith in uniform three times -- at the Red-Blue Game in each of the past two seasons, and Sunday in the exhibition against the College of Idaho.

We'll have this from UA's 2015 dunk contest to remember him by:

The impact from never having Smith in the regular season is hard to gauge, other than projections based on his five-star recruiting rankings, Miller's own words -- "Ray Smith is one of the most talented young players that has ever entered our program" -- and reports that NBA scouts last fall thought he was the team's best pro prospect based on his practice work before his second ACL injury.

Yeah, he could have been a star.

4. Kenzie Fowler

The local kid from CDO was considered the nation's top pitching prospect -- a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year -- and she led Arizona to the championship round of the Women's College World Series as a freshman in 2010.

But injuries hounded Fowler throughout her career.

She nearly died as a 16-year-old due to thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that restricts or blocks blood flow between the ribs and shoulder. She overcame that scare to her pitching arm and had an All-American season in her first year on the UA campus. A national title or two seemed inevitable.

Then came a series of setbacks; Fowler was never the same.

She suffered a concussion after being hit by a foul ball in the dugout late in the 2011 season. She suffered from back pain, as well as leg and foot numbness, during the 2012 season, undergoing a microscopic lumbar discectomy that fall. She redshirted in 2013.

As a redshirt senior in 2014, he was just 8-6 with a 3.38 ERA when she had to step away when she developed thoracic outlet syndrome in her left shoulder.

The good news: Post-college, she's worked in the Arizona athletic department and has a promising future as a softball broadcaster.

3. Scooby Wright

Wright, as a high-energy, loves-to-play linebacker, had the most decorated season in Arizona football history in 2014, when he led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 South title.

He won a trio of major national awards -- the Bednarik and Nagurski awards as the country's top defender, and the Lombardi as the top lineman/linebacker. Wright also was selected the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year.

With hopes for more -- or at least more of the same in 2015 -- he suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee in the first quarter of the first game, then sustained a foot injury when he returned, too soon, three games later. Wright was able to return only for the bowl game before turning pro.

He went from making 163 tackles as a sophomore -- including 28 for loss and 14 sacks -- a junior year in which he was healthy enough to make only 23 stops.

2. Brandon Ashley

Arizona basketball was No. 1 in the country and 21-0 when the Wildcats played at Cal on Feb. 1, 2014. Ashley went down with a season-ending foot injury that night, as UA lost on a last-second shot by Justin Cobbs.

Including that game, the Cats went just 12-5 without Ashley. They still reached the Elite Eight and had a great chance to win it all with a core of T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson Aaron Gordon, Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but Arizona fell to Wisconsin 64-63 in an epic overtime game in Anaheim, Calif.

Ashley averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 22 starts that season. Would he have been the difference of a couple of points against the Badgers?

Technically, we'll never know.

Technically.

1. Rob Gronkowski

He was as freaky an athlete as Arizona football has ever had. Running back Chuck Levy and cornerback Chris McAlister were in a similar class -- but the Wildcats had never seen that size, that speed, that body and those hands all in one package.

The tight end caught 16 touchdown passes in 22 games at Arizona, and that seemed to only scratch the surface of what he could do. He would have been off the charts during a junior season that never came.

Gronk underwent back surgery after his sophomore year, sat out in 2009, and then turned pro. Now, the New England Patriot is on his way to becoming the greatest tight end in NFL history.

Arizona fans, meanwhile, are left to lament what might have been.

Even without Gronkowski, the Wildcats were playing for first place in the Pac-10 on Nov. 21, 2009, when they lost a double-overtime heartbreaker at home to Oregon. Like with Ashley, who knows how it would have played out if Gronkowski had been available, not only against the Ducks, but the whole season -- with Nick Foles throwing him passes.

Alas, Arizona's search for a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth continues ...

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Also considered here: Basketball player Kevin Parrom's various foot problems (and injuries from a shooting), wide receiver Austin Hill's torn ACL after his big sophomore season, and running back Nick Wilson's various ailments that took him from being on a record-setting rushing path at Arizona to the ultimate guy "who can't stay healthy." Have other suggestions? Leave a comment on many pages on Twitter and Facebook.