Reid Travis is back. And he has no intention of leaving again.
That was the overriding message in Kentucky’s 73-55 victory over Alabama on Friday night in the Southeastern Conference quarter-finals.
Travis, who hadn’t played since spraining his right knee at Missouri on Feb. 19, played 23 minutes. He scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and equaled a career high with three blocks.
When asked afterward about the soundness of the knee, Travis said in words what those numbers suggested.
“I’d say 100 percent,” he said. “I mean, It’s still going to get sore. It’s still going to get stiff. That’s something I’m going to have to work through the next couple weeks.
“But all in all, I’ve been able to do what I need to do on the court. I feel confident out there.”
Of course, the Big Blue Nation hasn’t been panting for Travis’ return in order to advance to Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinals. The unblinking focus on the bigger picture for now involved helping UK win the league tournament with victories in three games in less than 48 hours.
One of the reporters crowded around Travis in the Kentucky locker room asked the bottom-line question: Could he play and be effective in three games here?
“Yeah, I feel ready,” Travis said. “I’ve just been preparing myself the last couple of weeks knowing my return was going to be a three-games-in-three-days type of situation. … I feel I’ve taken care of my body so well up until this point, I should be fine.”
Teammates welcomed Travis’ return.
“He brought a lot of energy,” said PJ Washington, who did not let 4-for-12 shooting prevent him from contributing a double-double (10 points and 12 rebounds) while equaling a career high of four blocks.
EJ Montgomery, who along with Nick Richards tried to fill the vacuum created by the injury, said that Travis’ return “takes stress off me and PJ.”
Travis suffered the injury when Keldon Johnson fell into his leg at Missouri. Travis acknowledged his good fortune that the injury was not more serious than a sprain.
“I’m very blessed,” he said. “In this game, that’s kind of how it is. It’s part of the game. So I know that. That’s what we all sign up for.”
Travis said he knew soon after moving carefully to the locker room at Missouri that the injury would not end his season.
“It stiffened up on me right away when I got back to the locker room,” he said. “But the doctors were there with me right away and assured me it was nothing too serious. I was optimistic the whole time.”
Having gained a reputation for total commitment to whatever he does, Travis threw himself into the rehabilitation. He described the rehab as “just long. All day. Tedious.”
Mornings. Afternoons. Evenings. Day after day. Riding an exercise bicycle. Running on UK’s under-water treadmill.
“When you’re hurt, I feel you spend more time in the gym (and) in the training room than you would while you’re healthy and while you’re playing.”
UK Coach John Calipari had pointed out that the injury set Travis back in terms of cardio fitness. The timing of the injury made that a bigger problem.
“It’s tough taking three weeks off this time of the season,” Travis said. “Everyone else is in great shape. They’re playing. So I had to do everything I could to maintain a cardio level.”
A question about how many miles he ran underwater made Travis chuckle. He did not keep a count.
“I wish I could have,” he said. “It would have been a big number.”
No one with Kentucky tried to rush his return, Travis said.
“Nobody was looking at me, like, ‘It’s 85 (percent). Come back,’” he said. “Everybody basically said, ‘You’ll know when it’s strong enough to come back. I felt I took the right amount of time to get it right. I feel great.”
About 3:30 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Tennessee in semifinals in Nashville (ESPN)