After Linas Kleiza dislocated his right shoulder Jan. 28 at Colorado, the initial prognosis was that he would miss two weeks and could return Sunday.
Two days before his potential return, the situation has changed dramatically. Kleiza, a freshman and Missouri’s leading rebounder, will have surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
“We have met with Linas’ family and our medical staff here at Mizzou and we believe that the severity of the injury would have reduced his effectiveness on the court, making immediate surgery necessary,” coach Quin Snyder said in a release.
“We feel that this is the best option for Linas’ career and his eventual contribution to our program. We will miss his intensity, but I know we will continue to battle and stay together.”
Kleiza, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward from Lithuania, will have surgery in the next two weeks. The team expects the recovery process to last three to four months.
Kleiza injured his shoulder in the final minute against the Buffaloes when he and Colorado center David Harrison tangled arms while reaching for a rebound. Kleiza immediately walked off the court, and he and trainer Pat Beckman popped his shoulder back into place in the locker room.
He spent the past two weeks rehabilitating, but was unable to regain full movement of his right arm without pain.
“We did a good job (without Kleiza), but it wouldn’t have hurt if he was in there, having that physical presence out there and just having a versatile body, a big guy who can go out and shoot the ball and also post up,” senior forward Travon Bryant said last week. “He knows that we all understand that so we’re just looking for him to get healthy.”
Kleiza averaged 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds in 16 games. He scored a season-high 18 points twice, in consecutive games against Belmont and Iowa at the end of the nonconference season.
He twice earned Big 12 Conference Rookie of the Week honors and led the league in rebounding in early December.
Kleiza’s physical presence under the basket and quickness to beat defenders outside made him one of the team’s most consistent players. Kleiza’s 51 offensive rebounds are one fewer than senior Arthur Johnson’s team lead.
Kleiza spent the season as the first man off the bench, usually replacing Bryant. Kleiza and Bryant played well when paired together. They combined for 34 points on 14-of-18 shooting in a 106-98 win against UNC-Greensboro on Dec. 21.
The Tigers have gone 2-2 without Kleiza, including losses at Kansas and Nebraska. Kleiza’s departure leaves Missouri with Johnson, Bryant and sophomore Kevin Young to play forward. Johnson and Bryant combined for 72 minutes in a 77-65 win against Colorado on Tuesday. Young has averaged 7.3 minutes off the bench.
With the seniors fighting foul trouble at Nebraska on Saturday, Missouri often used a four-guard lineup. The strategy did not work against the Cornhuskers, who used strong 3-point shooting to dominate the Tigers in a 78-62 win.
The Tigers might be forced into using their starters as much as possible when they face teams with a strong inside presence, including Iowa State on Wednesday.
Senior guard Josh Kroenke received a puncture wound to his right leg when freshman guard Thomas Gardner broke a backboard during practice Sunday. With Kroenke and Kleiza unavailable, Missouri has eight healthy scholarship players.
The Tigers (10-10, 5-5) host UNLV in a nonconference matchup at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Hearnes Center.