CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Lucas O'Rear played 119 collegiate basketball contests, and he seemed virtually indestructible throughout most of them.
But the Northern Iowa star's right ankle made an ominous noise late last Wednesday, which soon brought an entire fan-base to its knees.
"I knew something wasn't right --- especially when I heard a big 'pop,'" O'Rear explained over the weekend.
"It kind of took a little while for it to sink in. They said 'fracture,' and they said 'season-ending.' ... I wasn't too thrilled about it.
"But that's life," O'Rear added. "Stuff like that happens. You've just got to take it with a grain of salt and move on. Now I've got to help out the team the best I can."
His right ankle now encased in a massive protective boot following surgery Thursday, O'Rear cheered on his team during Friday's practice while seated in a wheelchair.
O'Rear's injury occurred on a seemingly harmless, late-game rebound attempt against the Redbirds.
"I didn't land on anybody's foot. That's what is so weird about it," the senior post player explained. "I just went straight down, landing normal, and that's why I was so surprised about it."
O'Rear isn't interested in anyone's pity, though. And, he doesn't think anyone should pity his Panther teammates, who are still positioned to make a postseason run.
The two-time Missouri Valley Conference sixth man of the year does, however, appreciate the outpouring of concern he has heard from fans over the last four days. O'Rear rarely scored in double figures over the course of his career, yet he always held the home crowd in the palm of his hand, thanks to his relentless hustle.
"It's nice knowing that the fans are praying for you and wishing you the best," said the Du Bois, Ill., native. "UNI fans, I think, are the best in the country in terms of support.
"I was out running errands (Friday) and people were saying 'sorry' and all this other stuff. It just means a lot, knowing that the whole community is there backing you."
In an absolute best-case scenario, O'Rear's fractured ankle could heal in six weeks, roughly by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. Thus, the senior hasn't completely closed the door on the possibility of returning to the hardwood for the Panthers, though he knows it's a longshot.
"I don't know. We'll just play it by ear," said the senior. "It's just one of those things where, if it works out that in six weeks I'm good to go, then I'm gonna give 'er a run. But, if not, I had a lot of fun up here."
Those close to O'Rear want him to concentrate on getting healthy by mid-April so the minor-league hurler can return to the Cincinnati Reds' organization. And, O'Rear fully intends to join the Reds' rookie-league team in Arizona a week after UNI's basketball season is completed.
But O'Rear plans on savoring his final weeks in Cedar Falls, one way or another. After all, his time in Panther fatigues has been special.
"It's just the environment," O'Rear said, scanning the McLeod Center. "For me, it reminded me a lot of in high school, on Friday nights, going out to the football field --- you just get that energy pumping through your veins. The fans --- that's what I'm going to remember the most."