ALBUQUERQUE — Six weeks in a boot, and another three sitting on the sidelines, was bad enough.
But when Arizona sophomore Rawle Alkins was getting over a broken foot he suffered on Sept. 26, another frustration could have dragged him down.
If Alkins had turned pro last spring, he could have been collecting some pretty good paychecks, even if he was hurt.
Because of his size, skills and athleticism — plus a strong performance in the NBA combine last spring — Alkins was a potential second-round pick in last June’s NBA Draft, and might have at least commanded a two-way contract that would guarantee he’d make somewhere between $50,000 and $276,000.
And, if he signed an outright NBA deal and made a team, he’d pull in a minimum $815,000, too.
But in his first interview of the season, after scoring a career-high 26 points in UA’s 89-73 win at New Mexico on Saturday, Alkins smiled when asked if he considered that possibility.
“I think everything happens for a reason,” Alkins said. “Every king has their own road to glory. And I just looked at it as a different road I was taking.”
Of course, Alkins was smiling. When isn’t he? This is a guy who rolled into the Red-Blue Game on a motorized scooter, appeared engaged when on the sidelines for nine games plus two exhibitions, and then drew a rousing ovation when he finally returned for good on Dec. 9 against Alabama.
He said he never felt down over the injury.
“It was just staying positive,” Alkins said. “Having to miss the first 10 weeks of the season is not the best thing in the world. I missed Red and Blue. Red and Blue is actually a great experience to watch. That was my first time actually watching that.”
Behind the scenes, UA coach Sean Miller said Alkins was upbeat, too.
“He was as consistent as I’ve ever seen for a player going through an injury like that,” Miller said. “He kept his head up, worked really hard, followed directions, did a great job academically. As you know, he stayed very engaged with our team in practice and also in the games.
“And here he is, it’s been as smooth of a transition as he could have after missing as much action as he has. So we’ve got our fingers crossed that he will continue to be good and he’ll be with us all the way to the finish line.”
While Alkins pretty much had to miss what UA said he would — the school estimated 8-12 weeks, and Alkins returned between 10 and 11 — the timing of his return, at least, is ideal for the Wildcats.
Now with Alkins back to his normal self, Arizona has two more non-conference games, Monday against North Dakota State and Thursday against UConn. That’s just enough time remaining to solidify the rotation before opening Pac-12 play on Dec. 30 against No. 5-ranked ASU.
By then, the Wildcats could be a pretty complete team. Arizona now has three major scoring options in Allonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton and Alkins, along with emerging freshman wing Brandon Randolph.
The Wildcats also have enough experience and depth that they survived an injury to backup point guard Alex Barcello without much trouble Saturday.
Without Barcello, and with Parker Jackson-Cartwright having picked up two early fouls Saturday at New Mexico, Trier played nine minutes in the first half at point guard.
By halftime, Trier already had 11 points on 2-for-2 shooting from the field. He was 6 for 6 from the line and had three assists to no turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
“I told him after the game that the first half he played might have been his best overall half that he’s played at Arizona,” Miller said. “He played point guard, did a great job of defense, made big plays, was efficient. He let the game come to him. He might not have had as good as a second half but his statistics speak for themselves.”
So, with Alkins back and Trier’s game growing, you could even say Arizona might now be approaching the kind of team they were expected to be as a consensus top-3 team before their winless Bahamian trip over Thanksgiving week.
But neither Trier nor even Alkins would go quite that far.
“I wouldn’t say it’s me being back,” Alkins said. “I would say our team is getting better every game, every rep we play, and I feel like our whole team is pretty talented. With me coming back, I don’t feel like anything’s changing. Everyone’s just progressing.
“It’s like me last year. Toward the end of the year I feel like I played better. Everyone’s time is gonna come.”