Although the circumstances are a lot different, two of the best boys players in Fort Wayne returned to the basketball court Monday for the first official practice of the season.
Juniors Austin Hatch of Canterbury and James Blackmon Jr. of Bishop Luers showed the promise and excitement of the new season by getting back to action.
Hatch has been out of action for 17 months after being severely injured in a plane crash in June 2011 that killed his father and stepmother. Hatch, who was unavailable for comment, was cleared by doctors recently for limited practice.
Austin Hatch has been conditionally released by his medical team to begin practicing with the Canterbury High School basketball program, Eric Miller, a family spokesman, said in a statement. Austin is limited to the types of drills he can participate in at this time.
The Cavaliers, who advanced to the Class A semistate last year, were still glad to see the Michigan recruit back on the court.
A lot of us didnt expect this to happen so soon, Canterbury senior Trent Van Horn said of Hatchs return. He has made great progress, and we are looking forward to having him out here. There are no expectations, but it is just great to see him out here. Unfortunately, I had a year without him on the court.
In September, Hatch was given an extra year of eligibility by the IHSAA because of the school time he missed after the accident.
Theres no timetable for his return full time, and Canterburys season opener is Nov. 20 at Central Noble.
Its a little different around here because we have watched him work out and have seen where he is in his recovery, first-year Canterbury boys coach Scott Kreiger said. Everyone is familiar with his story but having him out here is all part of the excitement of a new season.
His return, though, can again serve as inspiration to the team.
He inspired us last year, and he is a great leader for us even though he cant be on the court, Canterbury senior Chase Moyle said. We dont know what the season will hold for him, but it is good for him to be back on the court with us. This is a huge adjustment for him.
Moyle, the mental attitude award winner on the recent Class A state champion boys soccer team, is himself returning to basketball after he injured his knee last season and missed the teams semistate loss.
Blackmons return is a lot less dramatic but no less important, after injuring his left knee during a game late last season and having surgery on his ACL and meniscus March 6.
I am feeling real great because the season is about to start, Blackmon said. I am excited to get back out there because this is one of the things I wanted to do while I was rehabbing. It was real frustrating, but I always had to know that I will be back out there if I did the tasks at hand.
Luers coach and his father, James Blackmon Sr., said his son is 100 percent ready to return to the court after sitting out the AAU season during the summer.
It was tough last year to sit there and watch him on the sidelines and then watch him again in the summer, Blackmon Sr. said.
We had a good conversation about the things that he could do to get better and not feel sorry for himself. He had a short period of time to get down, and then he went back to work.
Blackmon Jr. might not be the only Indiana University recruit in the same household for much longer as his younger brother, Luers freshman Vijay Blackmon, is mulling over a recent offer from the Hoosiers.
I have been doing a lot of recruiting on him, but Ive just been telling him to make the best decision for him, Blackmon Jr. said. He has to do what is best for him because I want him to make his own name.