BOSTON – The emails came to injured Purdue center Isaac Haas from all over the world. There were medical recommendations, engineering innovations and even a note from an animal hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, specializing in veterinary care that wanted to him to come in.
Haas’ fractured right elbow in Purdue’s opening game of the NCAA tournament kept him out of Purdue’s round of 32 game against Butler on Sunday. And he likely won’t play against Texas Tech on Friday night because, well, he has a broken elbow. But the fact that Haas will in theory be available for the game involves a quintessentially Purdue story. Purdue has long been one of the country’s top engineering schools, and it reinforced that notion this week.
Sitting at his locker at the TD Garden on Thursday afternoon, Haas held up a black padded brace made overnight between Monday and Tuesday by a crew of Purdue graduate mechanical engineering students. Purdue trainer Chad Young got in touch with Eric Nauman, the director of the college of engineering honors program. He orchestrated the operation to make the brace, which included measuring Haas on Monday and an all-nighter by a group of graduate students to put the brace together.
“They built their own,” Haas said. “I met those guys and thanked them a lot. They stayed up all night and made it in a day. It’s pretty amazing.”
Haas couldn’t get cleared to play against Butler because his brace contained metal. This brace doesn’t, which makes Haas confident that the NCAA will clear him to play in the game. The Purdue staff gave the engineering students the NCAA guidelines to ensure the brace would be cleared. Their innovation includes a mysterious black padding that the engineering students invented for Haas’ brace. “These guys designed it,” said Young, the trainer. “They created it. They haven’t given it a name. It’s not on the market.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter has set two conditions for playing Haas on Friday night. He needs to be able to shoot a right-handed free throw and grab a rebound with two hands over his head. Haas said he can easily grab a rebound over his head, but shooting still causes him discomfort because moving the forearm causes a “dragging under that fracture” that’s painful. “I don’t see him playing,” Painter said. He added later: “I think he’s done.”
He added that Purdue has “the best brace we possibly could have,” but Haas has remained too limited by the injury as shooting free throws and his go-to jump hook aren’t realistic because of the injury.
Haas, a 7-foot-2 and 290-pound senior, is Purdue’s second-leading scorer (14.7) and rebounder (5.7). He acknowledges he’s unlikely to play, but did participate in Purdue’s shoot-around at the TD Garden on Friday. Haas ran gingerly, with his left arm swinging freely while he ran and his right one tucked more to his chest like a chicken wing. When an assistant coach attempted to high-five him going by, he reached across his body with his left hand to connect with the coach.
But simply being able to participate and potentially play has meant a lot to Haas, who has admitted that his free time has been “kind of depressing.”
He acknowledges that he’s been in a lot of pain – “I did break my elbow,” he deadpanned – and that it’s increased since the injury. “As the inflammation has gone down, the pain has gone up,” he said. “You realize what you can and can’t do.”
But even just being available to play means a lot to Haas.
“I want to be an option,” he said. “I want to show these guys. I put four years of my life into this program, dedicating myself to the process of getting us to where we are now. Why give up? Even if it’s setting one screen or playing one minute, it’s worth it.”
And thanks to the ingenuity of some Purdue engineers, Haas is at least available. “I’m so blessed,” he said of the rally to make the brace. “That’s awesome.”
More Sweet 16 coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Loyola’s Cinderella run continues with dramatic win over Nevada
• Did Loyola get away with a travel on crucial play?
• Michigan looks unbeatable as it advances to Elite 8
• Sister Jean: ‘I don’t care that you broke my bracket’