- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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A stress fracture in Emeka Okafor's lower back is the cause of recurring back spasms and will keep the Connecticut center out of Thursday night's Big East quarterfinal game against Notre Dame.
Dr. Jeff Anderson, the Huskies' director of sports medicine, told ESPN.com Thursday that Okfor could have played if he could withstand the pain. The injury also isn't expected to cause any permanent damage to the junior center's back, Anderson said.
Okafor, the Big East player of the year and a likely finalist for national player of the year, decided before tip-off whether he'd play against the Irish. Okafor's playing status is expected to remain fluid throughout the Big East and NCAA Tournament. Getting rest isn't the answer, according to Anderson.
"In sports medicine, people say day-by-day, but this is really day-by-day,'' Anderson said. "Emeka is feeling good today. But his back could spasm at any time. He could have a great weekend this weekend or next weekend and that doesn't mean it won't spasm in the regional finals."
Anderson said Okafor saw a spine specialist in Hartford and then went to Dallas with Anderson Wednesday to see Dr. Andrew Dossett, a back specialist who treats the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers.
Anderson said the Connecticut medical staff studied the CT scan of Okafor's back after Sunday's game at Syracuse. Okafor struggled during that game, taking only two shots in 32 minutes. That's when they found the stress fracture. "That wasn't there earlier in the year," Anderson said.
Okafor, who has been bothered by the back spasms throughout the season, wanted to have an independent opinion from someone not affiliated with the university. Anderson and his staff encouraged him to do so. Okafor picked Dossett.
Anderson said that Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway made sure taking Okafor by plane from Newark to Dallas wasn't an NCAA violation.
"Dr. Dossett told Emeka that he finds this problem in hundreds of elite athletes and they're still playing,'' Anderson said. "What happens is the stress fracture is on a tiny little part of the bone and then the extra motion triggers muscle around it to go into pain and then a spasm and that's when you see Emeka's face wince. He told him it's not a long-term problem. This is not a catastrophic finding.''
Anderson said this was a result of wear and tear. He said the fracture occurred sometime during Dec. 2-March 8.
Anderson said Okafor purposely went to a doctor who handles NBA players to put the league at ease. Okafor could be the top pick in the June NBA draft.
"We're dealing with someone that is in line for millions of dollars,'' Anderson said. "We're sure the NBA folks will be comfortable with Dr. Dossett's finding.''
Okafor didn't go to Thursday's shootaround but spent the morning with the team trainer working on strength and stretching of his mid-section.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Connecticut junior center Emeka Okafor has a small fracture in his lower back that is causing back spasms, but he can still play if he withstands the pain, Dr. Jeff Anderson, Connecticut's director of sports medicine told ESPN.com Thursday.