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Facing an uncertain future

Hernando basketball player Scott Minichino is having hip problems that may end career.

By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002


The diagnosis was shocking, the implications frightening.

Steve Minichino feared it meant the end of his son's basketball career. Minichino's wife, Denise, worried that her son would have to face hip replacement surgery as an adult.

Scott Minichino, diagnosed with arthritis of the hip at age 16, was in disbelief.

"Arthritis?" he said. "That's something that an old geezer gets."

Minichino, a varsity backup as a Hernando sophomore, had high hopes for his junior year. He was expected to be the starting center. His coach was counting on him for 10-12 points and 8-10 rebounds a game.

Minichino was developing a medium-range jump shot with the idea of moving to the No. 3 spot as a senior. He dreamed of playing in college.

But a hip injury that continues to puzzle doctors might mean the end of his career.

"It's just been very devastating because we were really looking forward to this year," Denise said. "Hopefully, it's something that can be fixed and he can play next year."

It would mean a lot to Minichino. He has been involved with basketball since age 8, and it is the only sport he plays. Though he has aspirations of continuing in college, being on the court is what matters most.

"I enjoy just doing it now," Minichino said. "If that opportunity came along, I'd take it. If it didn't, I'd have had some good times in high school playing."

Minichino first injured his left hip while playing in 1998. He fell to the floor, and another player landed on him.

Since his left knee hurt most, Minichino assumed the problem was there. Six weeks passed before he realized he had been walking around on a fractured hip.

Steven Mirabello -- a New Port Richey-based orthopedic surgeon who has worked on professional athletes such as Roger Clemens, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Fran Tarkenton and Bruce Smith -- placed a pin in the hip to repair a fractured growth plate.

Minichino returned to the court as an eighth-grader at Parrot Middle School and played on the junior varsity as a freshman at Hernando. Last season, he averaged 8-12 minutes a game as a backup to Paul Bates and Brian Norris on the varsity.

Coach Jeff Laing liked Minichino's size, shooting ability and sense for the ball as a rebounder. He wanted to increase Minichino's offensive role this year and suggested that he develop a 12-14-foot jump shot.

Laing envisioned Minichino as a No. 3 player as a senior and hoped to see him take steps toward that role this season.

But one week into practice, Minichino's future turned uncertain.

His hip started bothering him during conditioning drills, so he returned to Mirabello. After reviewing X-rays, Mirabello diagnosed the problem as the onset of arthritis.

The news was devastating: Minichino cannot play basketball and faces almost certain hip replacement surgery by the time he is 50.

"When I heard the arthritis, I spent a week crying off and on just thinking about it," Minichino's mother said.

Minichino's father had his doubts about the diagnosis.

"I've got arthritis in my back, and (Scott) is describing a different pain than what I was feeling," Steve said.

"Usually, arthritis is when you're sitting or laying all night and you get up and you're stiff," Denise said. "It's not that kind of pain. It's more like when he's moving."

Earlier this month, the family sought a second medical opinion from Dr. V.G. Raghavan of Northcliffe Medical Associates in Spring Hill.

Raghavan ordered a bone scan that in his opinion seemed to rule out arthritis. He suggested the pain might be due to a circulation problem. The area is problematic because it's weight-bearing.

"The way (Raghavan) described it, if you have a 200-pound child -- and Scotty's more than that -- just walking puts 600 pounds of pressure (on the hip)," Denise said.

"If you add running and jumping on top of that, it's astronomical," she said.

Though they have different opinions about the source of the pain, the doctors agree on one thing: no basketball, at least for a while.

"He misses it, and we miss him," Laing said. "But until he's cleared medically, we aren't going to think about what we would do."

To fill Minichino's spot, Hernando moved junior Chris Korbus, a natural guard/small forward, to the low post. Senior guard Joel Hoogewind also has seen time at the position.

Though Laing told him he is welcome at any time, Minichino has kept his distance from the team -- partly because Hernando has played on the road for much of December, and partly because he wonders whether he belongs.

"I kind of feel weird watching them on the court feeling like I should be out there playing," Minichino said.

Minichino spends his spare time working for his father's construction company. He sweeps houses, touches up paint and sets up permit boards. Weekends, he goes bass fishing at Lake Tarpon or Lake Rousseau.

Minichino is doing more than passing the time.

After graduation, he plans to pursue a career in the construction business. He promised his father a two-year degree for construction management followed by two years of continuous education while he works for his dad.

Under his father's direction, Minichino will build a spec house for the first time this summer.

In the meantime, Minichino's family continues to seek a solution to his hip problem. He gets a third opinion Jan. 15, when he visits pediatric orthopedist Greg Hahn of All Children's Hospital at Hahn's Tampa office.

If all goes well, Minichino could begin rehabilitation in the spring, rejoin the team over the summer and be back in time for his final high school season. Worst-case, he could be done playing and face eventual hip replacement surgery.

Minichino's father said his son is strong enough to cope with either outcome.

"The kid's got a good head on his shoulders," Steve said. "He's very mature. He takes it like a man. I'm real proud of him the way he handles himself."

Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430. Send e-mail to pastor@sptimes.com .

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