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Thursday, March 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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When UNLV forward Mike Moser dislocated his elbow Dec. 9 in a game against the California Golden Bears, trainer Dave Tomchek was the guy on the floor kneeling over him, assessing the basketball injury as the crowd held its breath.
It was Tomchek who, over the next 20 days, would put Moser’s arm in a sling, apply ice, help him stretch it, get him to slam a punching bag, to make layups, dunks, free throws and outside shots.
So will Moser be at 100 percent when the Rebels face the Golden Bears today in the second round of the NCAA Tournament?
In terms of basketball, the elbow is no longer an issue, Tomchek says.
The only thing the 6-foot-8 junior can’t do is beat Tomchek at arm wrestling.
“I think he’s a little scared of me,” Tomchek said with a chuckle.
Not so, said Moser. “I have to get him over here and beat him. I’m getting stronger,” he said before leaving the campus Tuesday for the game in San Jose, Calif.
That’s a confident boast from a player who just 3 1/2 months ago was in excruciating pain as his elbow was being manipulated back into place. That marked the start of recovery.
As Tomchek assisted the stunned Moser off the court, he told him he would be OK. But it would take work, not rest.
Moser’s daily training regimen started with stretching the elbow to decrease swelling and regain strength. The bigger challenge? Moser would have to mentally beat the injury.
“I had to help him play through the fear, telling him that it’s not going to happen again, that it was a freak injury,” Tomchek said. “It was a big mind game for him.”
Coach Dave Rice was expecting to see Moser play Jan. 9, but Moser had higher ambitions — to play in the Dec. 29 game against the University of North Carolina.
“I’m a quick healer. If rehab is all about working hard, I was going to make it to North Carolina,” Moser said.
Tomchek cleared Moser to play against the Tar Heals. He played 12 minutes, scoring his only points on a 3-pointer to close the first half.
“The game was tough. The ball felt heavier,” Moser said. Why did he push himself? “I just wanted to be out there and provide some kind of inspiration for my teammates.”
UNLV lost to the Tar Heels, 79-73, but Tomchek saw it as a victory for Moser, who was able to play at game speed.
“I was like a proud father knowing that Mike did all the work in three weeks,” Tomchek said. “I wasn’t worried about the elbow. I was more worried that he would shoot the ball in the crowd.”
Since the game, Tomchek has lightened up on Moser, letting the player take more personal control in dealing with the injury.
“I am a constant reminder that (the elbow) was hurt, so I would hide,” Tomchek said. “I don’t need to ask him everyday how the elbow feels. He knows when it hurts, and if he needs something, he will ask. If he doesn’t need anything, he is good.”
Moser has turned his attention to the weight room. Tomchek says he’s never seen a player dedicate himself more to weights.
So now the ultimate test of the elbow’s recovery has come down to arm wrestling.
“Every two weeks we will arm wrestle, and if he can beat me then I know he is fully healed,” the trainer said. Tomchek is 6-0. But for all either man knows, Tomchek might be that good even if Moser hadn’t been injured. They hadn’t arm-wrestled until after the elbow injury.
Moser says he’s concentrating on basketball, not arm wrestling, and is ready for today’s rematch with Cal.
Carl Winder is a UNLV journalism student.