The Maryland men's basketball team was 22-4, ranked No. 23 in the country and in the hunt for a Big Ten title when it traveled to No. 11 Wisconsin on Feb. 19 last season.
As Maryland trailed the Badgers by 12 points with about three-and-a-half minutes left, center Michal Cekovsky fractured his ankle. Cekovsky was forced to watch as the Terps lost four of their final six games, including their Big Ten and NCAA tournament openers, finishing in third place in the conference and unranked in the final polls of the season.
That finish showed how valuable Cekovsky is, and with surgery and rehab behind him, the Terps believe he can follow up his breakout junior campaign with a more impressive senior year.
"A healthy Ceko is crazy," forward Justin Jackson said. "You get to throw him [alley-] oops, he's getting blocks, he's running the floor. He was a missing piece for us late in the season, so, you know, having him back is really special."
Even before Cekovsky's injury, the 7-foot-1 center was never fully healthy last year, coach Mark Turgeon said. He battled hamstring and toe injuries early in the season and has struggled to stay healthy throughout his Maryland career.
Despite averaging more than seven points per game last year, Cekovsky played just 17 of the team's first 27 games. The Slovakian did his best to stay positive through those smaller ailments, he said, but guard Kevin Huerter could see the toll the wounds took on him.
"Ceko's at his best when he's been playing for a while," Huerter said. "It seems he has all these foot injuries to where, when he comes back, he doesn't play as confidently as he does when he's had a lot of games under his belt."
Cekovsky is still regaining trust in his body. He appears as mobile as ever, running the floor well for his size, an aspect of his game that can separate him from other big men. But only recently has he been comfortable landing on his left foot, Turgeon said.
"It looked like he was back," Jackson said after Cekovsky scored six points in Maryland's exhibition win over Randolph-Macon on Thursday. "So if he's not 100 percent yet, then I can't wait to see what he does when he's 100 percent."
Still, moments like one against Randolph-Macon, when he fell to the floor with bodies all around and under him, are important for Cekovsky's confidence.
"It's a major surgery he had, really a reconstruction of his ankle," Turgeon said. "He's got six or seven screws in there. It's going to be a process for him. He's way ahead of schedule in my book."
Cekovsky averaged career-bests in points, rebounds and blocks last season and had game-highs in all three of those categories.
This season, with Turgeon's squad planning on getting the ball in the post more to utilize Cekovsky and other bigs, the senior seems poised to take another step forward, especially if he's fully healthy.
"Everybody was helping me again, teammates, coaches," Cekovsky said. "And now I just focus on senior year and keeping my whole bad luck behind me."