Eric Katenda can’t catch a break.
After suffering a devastating eye injury in the summer of 2011 - a severed left optic nerve that caused permanent loss of sight - the 6-foot-9, 222-pounder originally from Paris is battling a nasty case of plantar fasciitis in his foot that has prevented him from a consistently productive off-season.
“He’s adjusted to the eye injury, but we’re dealing with plantar fasciitis that just seems to be reoccurring, and it’s really set him back,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“Quite frankly, it worries me. I wonder if we will ever get a physical, healthy presence out of him.”
Katenda arrived for the spring semester of 2012 after a successful prep career at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut and a final season at Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. Still adjusting to playing basketball without vision in his eye, Katenda practiced with the team throughout the 2012-13 season but did not participate in games.
With the loss of Jack Cooley to graduation, Brey was counting on Katenda competing for playing time with the big men in the crowded frontline, which still includes fifth-year seniors Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight, sophomores Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett, and now freshman Austin Torres.
But Katenda has had an on-again, off-again off-season as he battles plantar fasciitis, which is an irritation of the band of connective tissue on the sole of the foot. It’s an injury that often hits basketball players with the constant pounding of the feet on a hard surface.
“We tried a procedure on it, we rested it, and it’s gotten a little better,” Brey said. “Now we’re just going to play and if it tears, we’ll do another procedure.”
Katenda has adjusted to the loss of sight/peripheral vision, offering many of the mental and physical characteristics Brey looks for in a big man. Marquette’s Chris Otule is an example of a college player who has achieved a level of success without vision in one eye. But Otule was born without sight in one eye; Katenda has had to adjust over the last two years.
Blessed with a big body, long arms and a knack for interior play, Katenda was trending in the right direction until the foot problems.
“He’s had flashes where I love him because he can play post defense and he can rebound, and he’s smart enough to know, ‘Coach, that’s what I’m going to do to help us,’” Brey said. “He gets it. He understands we need him to do that.
“But it seems like it’s one step forward, two steps back, and it’s starting to worry me whether we’re really going to be able to get him to the point where he can practice for two straight weeks and we can really evaluate him.
“That’s the hurdle right now, and I’m really concerned.”