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Boys basketball: A path to recovery

Photo illustration by Ben Kennedy, Chloe O’Laughlin and Linda Phillips. Photos by John Roark.

By LUKE O’ROARK | Post Register
Loroark@postregister.com

Trey Johnson’s injury can be seen on video. Ty Burton’s didn’t even happen on a basketball court. Dillon Sorensen’s didn’t end his season, but it did affect his team.

Three different seniors. Three different teams. Three different injuries. Three of the best basketball players in District 6. But all three sharing the same fate: having to watch all, or part, of their final season go by from the sidelines.

TREY JOHNSON

On Nov. 30, Hillcrest High School senior Derek Marlowe tweeted a video of him alley-ooping to Johnson.

Marlowe tweeted two sets of emoji eye balls (basically, social media lingo for “Hey, check this out”), as the video shows him bouncing the ball off the backboard to a trailing, high-flying Johnson.

Hillcrest’s Trey Johnson poses for a portrait on Thursday, January 11, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Seven days later, Johnson — still high-flying, attacking the backboard with his 6-foot-5 frame — tweeted his own video. This time, however, it was a video of him hitting his head on the backboard and breaking the scaphoid bone in his wrist. He also suffered a concussion.

“Live, I did not realize that he hit his head as hard as he did,” Hillcrest coach Dave Austin said on Dec. 18. “I thought he just scraped it on the side, so I saw him kinda get knocked off balance and come up with his wrist cocked underneath him a little bit. I was a little concerned with it, but Trey is such a tough kid … when he came over to the bench, and coaches came to talk him a little bit, he was pretty emotional.”

At first, Johnson said he didn’t feel much pain in his wrist. It wasn’t until he was taken out and sat on the bench that he felt a shock go through him. He couldn’t move his fingers.

He said the father of teammate Jaxon Weatherly, a physical therapist in Idaho Falls, evaluated his wrist after the game before telling him to get an x-ray. Johnson eventually had surgery in Pocatello by orthopedic hand surgeon Jeffery Stucki.

“I just started crying,” Johnson said when he learned of the injury, his first broken bone since age 2. “It’s my senior year. I’ve put in so much time and effort and I put in at least two hours a day all year long, and then to realize my wrist is broken and I won’t be able to play most — if not all — of the season is hard.”

Austin said Johnson will sit out for at least eight weeks before being re-evaluated in mid-February.

Losing Johnson is a big deal for Hillcrest. He’s one of the Knights’ eight seniors, a four-year starter, and one of the team’s leading scorers and rebounders. He helped guide the Knights to a 4-0 start, their third 4-0 start since 2013.

Now he has to watch from the sidelines. It’s difficult, especially for an emotional player like Johnson.

“This year is by far the hardest, because I’m not out there,” said Johnson, who overcame a torn ligament in his ankle as a freshman and lost close to 30 pounds as a junior year due to illness. “I’d rather play like I did last year, without all that weight on me and go through that than just sitting on the sideline, watching my team out there and not help them out on the court.”

Without him, the Knights lose a dynamic forward that stretches the floor. Austin, Marlowe and Weatherly preached “next man up” at a recent Knights practice. That mentally has worked, as the Knights sit at 15-3 and tied for first in the 5A District 5-6 standings despite Johnson missing 15 games.

But there’s no getting around it: Hillcrest isn’t the same without Johnson.

“We’ve been playing sports together since 6 years old and this is his first real injury that’s kept him out,” Marlowe said. “(Sports) are a part of our lives. And when you lose it, and I’m sure you can ask Tyler Burton about that he’s hurt his knee twice, you lose a part of your lifestyle.”

TYLER BURTON

Burton may or may not even get the chance to dribble a basketball competitively this season.

The Skyline High School senior tore his right ACL during week three of the Grizzlies’ football season. It was his second ACL tear in about 10 months — all but ruining his final season and keeping him from a sport he’s passionate about.

Skyline’s Tyler Burton poses for a portrait on Monday, January 8, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

“After it happened, I was walking around the sidelines like, ‘no way this happened again,’” Burton said of the initial shock. “I went back to the trainer and he said, ‘it might be torn,’ but I was like, ‘there’s no way.’

“I held out hope until I had the MRI and when the doctor told me, I just sat in my car and cried for about 20 minutes,” Burton said before participating in Skyline’s shootaround a few weeks ago. “My mom had to drive me home.”

Skyline boys basketball coach Clint Cornish said the Grizzlies are hopeful Burton will be ready to play by the district tournament in mid-February. He still dresses for games and can be seen warming up.

He said on Jan. 11 the doctor who performed both of his surgeries, Dr. John Andary, may clear him early if his knee seems stable enough.

But a complete ACL tear can make knee joints unstable. And tearing the same ACL twice — well, that’s not good for any athlete.

“I can’t imagine having to go through that twice, when basketball is his thing,” Cornish said of Burton. “He’s done a great job, honestly, coming to practice and helping kids but it’s hard for him to be at practice, too. We’ve had conversations where I’m like, ‘Hey, man, you don’t have to be at every practice,’ because it’s hard. You’re watching and you don’t get to play.”

Like Johnson, Burton said his injury affects components of his social life, too, as he sometimes can’t participate in group activities — say, bowling with friends or playing recreational sports.

“It affects me constantly,” Burton said. “I’ve been depressed for a while, it got pretty bad at one point. You lose motivation. And I’m still not over it.”

On Dec. 11, he tweeted: “i miss sports so much. It’s killing me.”

To recover from his second ACL tear, Burton has leaned on friends and support groups. He’s talked to Johnson — “We both just talk about how much it sucks and how much we miss playing,” he said — and relied on Cornish and teammate Brennan Archibald.

Insurance initially covered two-hour sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Now on Tuesdays and Thursdays he’ll head to the gym to help regain muscle. He’ll still wear a brace when playing.

His LDS faith has also been important in his recovery.

“God knows what I’m going through and He won’t put me in something I can’t handle,” Burton said. “It helps knowing that there is someone who is looking over me.”

Like Johnson, Burton said he hasn’t given up hope. He said his goal is to return a month early to give playing basketball one final go. He said he may try to play college basketball somewhere after serving his LDS mission.

“It’s hard for high school kids because in college, you can take a medical redshirt. In the NFL, you’re put on a waiver wire, you rehab, you get picked up by another team,” Cornish said. “But for high school kids, there’s such a small window.”

DILLON SORENSEN

Sorensen’s injury might not be as serious as Johnson’s or Burton’s, but the productive Bonneville High School senior took his injury just as hard.

Sorensen originally sprained his ankle jumping for a rebound during a preseason jamboree game. He sprained the same ankle again during a Bonneville practice four weeks later, cutting quickly during a drill.

Bonneville’s Dillon Sorensen poses for a portrait on Monday, January 8, 2018. John Roark/ jroark@postregister.com

Sorensen’s injury wasn’t season-ending, but it was lingering. It’s difficult to gauge when to play and when not to play. And what makes Sorensen’s injury a little more complex — he’s had to watch from the sidelines as his team’s best player.

The Bees lean heavily on Sorensen. After an explosive junior season — the 6-foot-5 wing averaged 15 points and seven rebounds on 54 percent shooting, which Tucker called a “senior season as a junior” — Sorensen has had games of 24, 22 and 30 since Jan. 9.

“It’s honestly pretty (crappy) being on the sideline,” Sorensen said at a practice earlier this winter. “It sucks. You want to play. You want to get out there.”

Sorensen is fully healthy now, but his injury was a reminder of how fragile bodies can be.

“He’s our backbone,” Tucker said of Sorensen. “And we lean on him a lot. It’s hard to see the bigger picture but if this all pays off in February and in March at the Idaho Center, then obviously we can say good things happened. But it sucks right now, he’s gotta sit and he’s quite not ready and it takes a man to be able to admit that they’re not quite ready.”

At 4-13, Bonneville — which graduated nine seniors from last year’s 5A state consolation winning team — will need Sorensen at full strength down the stretch. Like Cornish said, there’s a small window.

And as seniors, their windows are closing — whether due to injury, graduation or the pressure to win one last state game.

“That’s what we’re gonna chalk it up to: just bad luck,” Austin said of all three injuries. “I hate to see any kid get hurt and they are all just great kids.”

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