Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

OK, this is getting serious.

With injuries to Thik Bol, Marcus Bartley and Austin Weiher, the Southern Illinois University basketball team was down to nine healthy players at the start of the regular season. Weiher has since returned, but has seen limited action.

The Salukis were dealt another potential setback this week when starting forward Jonathan Wiley injured his left thumb in the win over SIU-Edwardsville.

Wiley played Saturday and showed few side effects from the injury. He started the game with the thumb wrapped, but removed the bandage in the middle of the first half.

Still, hand injuries can be worrisome. Even if he misses little or no time, his effectiveness could to be compromised if the injury is aggravated – as far as appendages go, thumbs are pretty important. And, as anyone who has ever stubbed a finger knows, it’s not easy playing basketball with one hand.

The injury could further compromise an already limited team. Let’s not forget that Armon Fletcher is nursing a balky knee.

There are indications that Marcus Bartley is getting close. Bartley, a transfer from St. Louis University, is coming back from a broken wrist. While his services are sorely needed, the downside of forcing the issue and coming back too soon is painfully obvious.

The team will learn on Monday if Bartley is available to play at St. Louis Wednesday. After Saturday's victory over San Jose State, SIU coach Barry Hinson didn't seem optimistic.

It’s better to take your lumps now than to take a chance, reinjure the wrist and lose Bartley for the season.

In the meantime, Bol had knee surgery prior to the season is still at least two weeks away.

When players return from injury it normally takes a while to round into form. And, obviously it takes several games to settle on combinations and rotations.

So, what is coach Barry Hinson to do? So far the team has been surviving, but the schedule will get tougher in a couple weeks.

It’s not like you can find a small forward by advertising in the want ads. You can’t go shopping on Craigslist for a 6-foot-8 forward with a deft touch and a 30-inch vertical. This isn’t football, the depth chart doesn’t go four deep.

The Salukis will have to fill the gaps by committee – albeit a small committee.

Kavion Pippen, Sean Lloyd, Armon Fletcher, Aaron Cook and Tyler Smithpeters are averaging between 22-30 minutes per game. Rudy Stradnieks is averaging just over 14 minutes per game. Obviously, there are a few additional minutes there, but fouls can limit a person’s availability.

That happened on Saturday when Fletcher, Wiley, Smithpeters and Stradnieks all racked up four fouls.

That leaves Weiher and Brendon Gooch.

Weiher, a junior, has played well at times in his career, but has never established himself. Gooch is a redshirt freshman from Belleville Althoff who has played about 30 minutes at the Division 1 level. With the bench growing shorter, Weiher and Gooch have an opportunity.

If they don’t step up, the other six players will need to find a way to stay on the floor until reinforcements arrive. That happened on Saturday when six players played 22 minutes or more.

Injuries are always a part of the game, but it’s difficult to remember when a Saluki basketball team has been as short-handed.

LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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