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King Back in The Saddle

March 8, 2010

by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor

ATLANTA — Kevin King is back on the tennis courts at Georgia Tech, in the sun, where everything is likely to feel so right on perhaps the finest day of weather Atlanta will have seen yet this year.

It’ll be a big change because it’s been a miserable winter. Just ask King, a sophomore tennis player on The Flats.

It’s been cold. It’s been rainy. And it’s lousy being treated like a piece of meat sent through a tenderizer. Actually, that’s been the best part.

Miss the entire fall season because of a “thickened tendon,” behind your left (hitting) arm and shoulder and you might be grumpy. Miss the first eight matches of the spring season after having had a fine freshman season and looking forward to year two with teammates that include No. 5-ranked Guillermo Gomez, and you just might develop a special form of cabin fever.

Have doctors tell you to shut it down for four weeks after they drain some of your blood, spin it in a machine and then poke it back into that big piece of wounded meat in 30 or so places and you’re probably going to go a little nuts. “I definitely wanted to be out there with them,” said King, who doesn’t always say much.

The Jackets won their first seven matches this spring, all without King and even though Gomez battled an ankle injury while coming off winter hernia surgery, before losing three of four as the schedule toughened. All three of those losses were to highly-ranked teams on the road,and King played in just one. He’s 3-0, with wins at No. 1, No. 5 and No. 6 singles.

Having him back is like an experiment in joy for coach Kenny Thorne.

“There’s no question. He’s very solid in both singles and doubles, and we still haven’t had our full lineup this season,” Thorne said. “He was one of our top players, can play high in the lineup. That pushes everybody else down and gives us an opportunity to have that much more depth even if he has to work himself into shape. He can still help by pushing guys down.”

The Platelet-Rich-Plasma (PRP) procedure King underwent at Emory Hospital in November is not experimental, but it’s relatively new.

A primer from the Peachtree City native: “They take our blood out, and thin it, and it’s supposed to separate and then they put that into the injured area. They spin it for 15 minutes.”

It seems to be working. Without getting into too much detail, the procedure involves using the body’s own treated blood to catalyze its healing.

Dr. Allan Mishra, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Stanford University Medical Center and one of the primary researchers in the field, explained to the New York Times: “It’s a better option for problems that don’t have a great solution — it’s nonsurgical and uses the body’s own cells to help it heal. I think it’s fair to say that platelet-rich plasma has the potential to revolutionize not just sports medicine but all of orthopedics.

“It needs a lot more study, but we are obligated to pursue this.”

Thorne thinks it’s great, a potential recruiting tool, even. The hospitals in Atlanta, after all, have capabilities that don’t yet exist in smaller metropolitan areas.

“It’s just amazing what they can do, isn’t it?” the coach said. “I think he’s worked extremely hard physically. He can win at a very high level. He needs to be in more tough situations.

“Serving-wise, he’s maybe 85 percent, and strength-wise he’s better than he’s ever been in terms of footwork and mobility. He’s far ahead of where he was last year. It’s just getting back to playing some long matches, and having to hit that serve under pressure.”

In a way, the pressure’s off for King. Being back is big.

“We’re getting to the point now where I can pretty much do everything,” he said. “I changed my service motion to try and protect the shoulder, get the body more involved. I think I’m playing about up to my potential. The down time definitely helped my conditioning, my fitness. I have the same mindset, but I think I’m able to execute a little better.”

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