Feb. 28, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
Prior to last spring, Artem Wallace hadn't dealt with anything worse than a turned ankle, much less something as serious as a major knee injury. So when a freak accident tore his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the final game of his junior season, it was both stunning and sickening.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Just one minute into a post-season College Basketball Invitational game against Valparaiso last March, Wallace came down awkwardly and felt his knee buckle. Some felt the injury could be career-threatening, given its severity and the long recovery associated with ACL tears.
"It's a tough situation, but nothing can be done about it now. I can't get down about it," Wallace said. "I just have to keep working hard in practice and something positive will happen."
That philosophy has helped Wallace come to peace with the injury and make the most of his senior season. His focus has been on thinking positive, as Wallace has realized the fortune in being able to return from such a devastating injury and play competitive basketball again.
On the other hand, Wallace also looks at what could have been had he been healthy this season. He finds it hard to not dream of being a steady contributor on one of the Pac-10 Conference's best teams.
Granted, Wallace is in a better position than many who suffer such debilitating injuries.
Normal recovery time for a torn ACL is six to nine months, conservatively. But Wallace was back at the start of the season, though he sported a heavy black brace that he still wears today. It gives him a little extra stability and added comfort, knowing he can jump or make a cut without having to worry about the knee.
That wasn't the case this summer, when he struggled with some of the rehabilitation process because of an uneasy feeling on his surgically-repaired joint.
Naturally, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar felt sick when he saw Wallace crumble to the court in Bank of America Arena that day.
"You never want to see something like that," Romar said. "It's your worst nightmare as a coach."
Before his injury, Wallace was a productive member of the Huskies' lineup. The 6-8 forward started 25 games and established himself as a defensive strongman in the Pac-10 Conference. Now he plays sparingly, but has built up something of a cult status among members of the student section at Hec Ed.
When Wallace enters a game, a small group of fans within the "Dawg Pack" unveils a giant Russian flag, in honor of Wallace's heritage.
Born in the Russian metropolis of St. Petersburg, Wallace is one of two international players on the Huskies roster (Matthew Bryan-Amaning of London, England is the other). Even though he moved to the United States at 14 when his mother died, Wallace (born Terechov) made it a point to embrace his cultural identity. He studies Russian Language and Literature at UW and has maintained a group of Russian friends outside of the basketball team. He also makes it a point to digest as much of the Cyrillic language as he can, whether it is television shows, movies, music or books.
"I try to keep Russian alive as much as I can," Wallace said. "It's important to me."
Almost a decade of living in the Pacific Northwest - Wallace moved from St. Petersburg to the small town of Toledo, Wash., with his adopted father Gail - has softened what once was a hard accent, so it can often come to a shock to people when Wallace dusts off some of his native tongue.
One thing Wallace hasn't done is make a return trip to St. Petersburg since he moved. The time commitment required for basketball has prevented it, so the plan is to jet over after graduation, when Wallace wants to head back to Europe to explore the possibility of playing professionally overseas.
If that doesn't pan out, Wallace wants to work as an interpreter or translator, putting his bilingual skills to good use in business.
Wallace also hopes he can make some sort of tangible impact with the Huskies this season.
He put in the time necessary to make a healthy recovery, spending the summer on campus doing strength exercises, such as single-leg squats to rehab the torn muscle ligament. But Wallace's knee is still not quite where he wants to be physically and the addition of several talented freshmen has bumped him from Romar's regular rotation.
"It's nothing he did," Romar said. "Some guys just stepped up and filled the void."
To Wallace's credit, he's handled the coaching staff's decision with maturity. The manner in which he's dealt with such a setback has not been lost on his teammates. Fellow senior Jon Brockman noted that even though he's lost a starting job, Wallace still bangs and defends in practice as if he's fighting for one.
"I'm sure it's been hard on him. In fact, I know it's been hard on him. He wants to help," Brockman said.
"He's accepted his role, though, and he comes to practice every single day and works like crazy."