Nobody would have begrudged Scott Stucky if he’d quit.
Not his coach. Not his trainers. Not his teammates.
After back-to-back season-ending knee injuries, how could they have?
A 6-foot-2 guard, Stucky arrived at the Air Force Academy in 2008 as a direct-entry basketball recruit from Dublin Coffman High in Ohio, where he was a three-time all-conference performer and a renowned long-distance shooter.
On the Falcons’ second day of practice, however, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a collision with a teammate. Surgery and rehab cost him the entire 2008-09 season. Then, last July — after seemingly making it all the way back — he tore the ligament again, going up for a layup during a game of one-on-one.
Stucky was looking at another surgery, a more difficult rehab and a second straight lost season. Instead of finally joining his teammates, he again would have to spend day after day walking by them to the training room as they went to practice.
Begrudge him quitting? Many expected it.
“When I (injured the knee) again, a lot of people counted me out,” Stucky said. “They’d say, ‘So, you’re done, I guess?’ But for me, I committed to come here and committed to play basketball here and I haven’t been able to do it yet. So my mindset was to rehab and be able to come back.”
Stucky is on his way. He participated in some drills in spring workouts and — while he has yet to join any five-on-five scrimmages — is on pace to be back with the team for the 2010-11 season.
“I think he’s done a great job,” said Ernie Sedelmyer, Air Force basketball’s athletic trainer. “It’s funny, usually when someone has a second injury like that they do a little better with their understanding of the rehabilitation process — it’s a little easier because you don’t have to guide them so much — but it’s also harder from a motivation standpoint. But in Scott’s case, and to his credit, he’s been more motivated.”
Not that it’s been easy.
Stucky played competitive football and basketball from junior high through high school (he was an all-conference defense back for Dublin Coffman), and he “might have sprained an ankle here or there, but never missed a game,” he said. So sitting and watching his freshman season was difficult. Being away from home for the first time made it tougher, as did the Falcons’ on-court struggles.
“There were times I would get pretty discouraged,” he said. “I’ve been in the training room every single day since the middle of October (2008). So it’s really felt like Groundhog Day the last two years. Same process every single day, and not a fun process, either. But if any thought (of quitting) came in my head, it would be gone by the end of the night because when I sat down and thought about what I wanted to do, it was a pretty easy decision for me to try to come back.”
Stucky credits his teammates and coaches for keeping him close and feeling like a part of the team. Coaches encourage him to sit in on practices and meals. Last year, coach Jeff Reynolds took Stucky on the road trip to San Diego State as one of his 15 allowed traveling players, even though he’d be unable to play.
And while Stucky hasn’t drained any 3-pointers or made any assists for the Falcons, he’s helped in other ways. He’s hosted recruits — “he has the perspective of, I’ve been here, I haven’t played, but it’s still a good place,” Reynolds said — and he’s served as a quiet inspiration for teammates. Especially those who battle injuries.
“He was able to get in there this year when we had guys sitting out and talk to them about, ‘Guys, keep your head up,’ ” Reynolds said. “And they could look at him and say, ‘Wow, maybe my situation’s not as bad.’ ”
Stucky was able to do some shooting and some cutting during the spring, but he’s still not all the way back. And Reynolds can’t guarantee there will be playing time waiting for him if he avoids further injury.
“I’m very encouraged by his efforts,” Reynolds said. “But as far as how much he can contribute next year? I don’t know because he’s been out two years.”
And if he hadn’t been injured those two years? Could he have contributed?
“Hard to say,” Reynolds said. “I think from the skill standpoint of making shots, yes. (Stucky holds the record at Dublin Coffman for career 3-point shooting percentage — 46). But (his first knee injury) happened so early his freshman year that we really weren’t able to get a gauge on how quickly he’d pick up what we do and his ability to guard the ball.”
A healthy Stucky’s potential impact the last two years is quite a what-if.
But Stucky can’t think about what could have been. He’s too focused on what still could be.