ALBANY The hot topic at last year’s Siena Sneak Preview was Rakeem Brookins’ back.
And so it was on Tuesday, too, but the context was profoundly different this time.
Brookins, the Saints’ starting point guard as a freshman, missed his sophomore season with a herniated and bulging disk.
He’s fully healed, and although the Siena staff will monitor his health closely all season, Brookins was happy to report to head coach Mitch Buonaguro that he made it through his first workout on Tuesday with no problems.
With Brookins in the mix, an already deep Siena team — a distinct departure from last year’s bench-deprived one — will be all the more dangerous when it opens the 2012-13 season in November.
“I feel like the same guy, to be honest,” Brookins said. “The coaches know I’m going to go out and play 100 percent every time. I’m not letting the back bother me at all.”
“I think he looks really good,” said senior O.D. Anosike, who led the nation in per-game rebounding average last year. “His back doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much. He’s really quick and aggressive.”
Even with Brookins out of the lineup, Siena hit the jackpot at point guard, anyway, when a player from the next freshman class, Evan Hymes, emerged as a full-time player who could score and run the offense.
Now that Brookins is healthy, it would seem, at first glance, that they would be competing for the position, but, in fact, Buonaguro is looking forward to getting both on the floor at the same time.
Not only can they work as interchangeable parts at point and shooting guard, but Siena will be a difficult team to press with two quick ballhandlers on the court.
“In high school, I played with a guard sort of like Rock,” Hymes said. “Whenever he got the ball, I would go to the two, and whenever I got the ball, he would do that, so it’s sort of the same concept.
“I remember some games last year when it was hard, because they’d put two people on me, and somebody would be open, maybe it would be Rob [Poole] or [Kyle] Downey, but now we have Rock, who can handle the ball, so we should be fine with the press.”
“The two has been my position all throughout my career in basketball,” Brookins said. “The first time I played the one was my freshman year, and I had to adjust to that. Now, going back to the two, that put a big smile on my face when he [Buonaguro] was saying that. Yeah, I get a little more chance to score, and that’s what I’m good at doing.”
Brookins had a second cortisone shot two months ago.
He said that will be an option if he gets to the point where his back is bothering him badly enough.
In the meantime, he’s maintaining a strength and conditioning program that focuses on his core to protect his back.
“I’m feeling great,” Brookins said. “I’m staying on top of my rehabilitation, I’m staying on top of my treatment, I’m in the trainer’s room with Hammer [Greg Dashnaw] every day. I’m just trying to keep it strong. I can’t wait to be out there with that guy.
“You wouldn’t even tell he had an injury last year,” Hymes said. “He’s going out and making incredible plays, getting in the lane, finishing, hitting jump shots. He looks great right now.”
Still, Buonaguro said monitoring Brookins’ back will be a day-to-day routine, especially since Brookins isn’t the type of player who will readily admit to pain.
“I was worried, because you never know with a back,” Buonaguro said. “It’s holding up. He actually told me today after his first workout that he had no problem at all.
The one thing with him is he’s tough, so you’ve got to be careful. He might not say, and I’ve got to make sure I know how he’s feeling.”
Siena is also looking forward to getting small forward Trenity Burdine back in the lineup.
He missed last season with a foot injury.