Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

UW center Franck Kepnang out for rest of season, Mike Hopkins says

By Percy Allen Seattle Times

SEATTLE – After weeks hoping it would not be true, Washington men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins confirmed what many Husky fans suspected for a long time: Franck Kepnang is done for the season.

For the second consecutive year, the energetic 6-foot-11, 253-pound center suffered a right knee injury that ended what appeared to be the start of a bright season.

Last season, Kepnang tore his right anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 1, 2022, after eight games, and underwent arthroscopic surgery.

Perhaps sooner than expected, Kepnang returned for the 2023-24 season opener on Nov. 6 and played in 10 games before landing awkwardly during a Dec. 17 contest and reinjuring his right knee.

At the time, the Huskies didn’t believe Kepnang suffered a season-ending injury and projected he would be back in 4-6 weeks.

“The response wasn’t what everybody else wanted in terms of the doctors and the team,” Hopkins said Tuesday. “He probably could try to play, but you have one body the rest of your life. Treat it like it’s your temple. If I was his parent, I’d say no. It’s just what it is.”

Kepnang returned to practice last month for individual drills, and the past few weeks Hopkins, who admittedly is overly optimistic, said he was making progress while characterizing his return as imminent.

Kepnang’s recovery, however, never allowed him to rejoin team drills in practice. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Huskies opted to shut him down.

“He wants to play,” Hopkins said. “He wants to help his team. That’s who he is. He doesn’t want to sit on the side. The guy is a warrior. … He wants to go out and help, but he’s got to also help himself. And he’s got to have people around him that have his best interests too and we do. He’s not at 100%, so he’s not playing.”

Kepnang, who played two years at Oregon, averaged 8.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks while starting eight of 18 games the past two seasons.

This season, Washington was 7-3 with Kepnang and 7-9 without him.

Hopkins is unsure if Kepnang will need another medical procedure on his knee, but said the most recent injury is not career-threatening.

Still, it’s uncertain if Kepnang will play again for the Huskies.

The Cameroon native has at least one year of eligibility remaining because of an NCAA COVID waiver and could potentially petition for a medical waiver that would grant him a sixth season.

“He needs more time,” Hopkins said. “Time heals all wounds.”

Maybe so, but time is running out on the Huskies and possibly Hopkins, who is reportedly on the coaching hot seat for the second consecutive year.

With five regular-season games remaining, it remains to be seen what UW can do with the rest of a promising season that’s gone awry.

The Huskies’ hopes at an NCAA Tournament at-large berth were essentially wiped away after Saturday’s last-second 82-80 loss against California.

Even if Washington (14-12, 6-9 in Pac-12), which is No. 60 in the KenPom rankings and No. 72 in the NET, was to win its remaining regular-season games – and that’s a big if considering UW hasn’t won five consecutive conference games in five years – the Huskies would likely need to capture the Pac-12 Tournament title to advance to the NCAA Tournament and snap a five-year postseason drought.

The Huskies visit Arizona State (13-13, 7-8) 6 p.m. Thursday at Desert Financial Arena on ESPN2 followed by a big showdown against No. 4 Arizona on Saturday.

“There are five games left in these guys’ career for most of them,” Hopkins said, noting six UW players’ eligibility expire after the season. “Let’s leave everything out there on the table. Let’s put it all out there. I’m excited for the opportunity.

“One game at a time. We can win every game. That’s just what it is. We’ve proven that. Now again, you can lose every game, but we’ve put ourselves in position to win every time we’ve played.”