There are some players, Chris Holtmann will tell you, who can’t cut their fingernails without yelling in pain.
Then there’s a guy like Luther Muhammad. In Sunday’s loss at Wisconsin, a defeat that snapped a three-game winning streak, the Ohio State coach cited Muhammad’s effort and contributions as one of few bright spots in the loss.
He did it with a significant brace on his left shoulder, one that he figures to wear Wednesday night against Rutgers. It replaced the one he had worn on his right shoulder for three of his previous four halves of basketball. Oh, and those two games’ worth of action came after he suffered a back spasm that limited him to 14 minutes in the prior game, a win at Northwestern on Jan. 26.
Offseason shoulder surgery could be in the works for Muhammad. When the ball is tipped, though, it’s not exactly on his mind.
"Basically, my shoulders, the glue around the ball in the shoulder, my shoulder basically isn’t stable," Muhammad said Tuesday. "I don’t have any concerns when I play, to be honest."
At a position already thinned by freshman D.J. Carton’s leave of absence from the team, Muhammad’s presence is of even higher priority. As a freshman, he missed one game after dislocating his left shoulder and played the rest of the season while keeping an eye on the situation. He injured his right shoulder this season in practice two days before a Feb. 1 home game against Indiana, then injured the left while driving the lane at Michigan three days later.
The bulky protective wrap he’s worn is more tolerable on his left shoulder than his right, he said, because it doesn’t affect his shooting quite as much.
In practice, Muhammad is having his minutes watched and his participation balanced with the need to keep him available for games. The same goes for junior forward Kyle Young, who is being monitored to avoid a recurrence of the stress fracture that limited him for the second half of his sophomore season.
"You’re just really trying to figure out what they have to do to stay sharp and physically ready to play games," Holtmann said. "At the same time, we’re obviously really thin at a couple spots, so we need their availability. It’s a real fine line you’re walking every day."
Against the Badgers, Muhammad finished with nine points, his highest scoring output since he scored 10 against West Virginia on Dec. 29. He’s shooting 40.4% from two-point range and 31.8% from three, the latter representing the lowest mark on the team among players with at least 20 attempts.
It’s been a struggle shooting, with or without the brace, but Muhammad said his approach hasn’t wavered.
"Just continue to be me," he said. "I watch LeBron, I watch pros, what pros do when they miss shots. What do pros do when they play bad? They continue to work at it, continue to stay in the gym, and sooner or later your work is going to show."