Taping the Brace

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Locker Room

May 17, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – As Camosun Chargers basketball captain Trevor Scheurmann hangs up his jersey, teammate and ISN writer Lachlan Ross tells the injury-riddled story behind his career.

By Lachlan Ross

Some things remained the same for Trevor Scheurmann. He still cracked his toes – baby toe to big toe – in the locker room amidst disgusted shudders of teammates. He still put his first sock on inside out so the stitching wouldn’t rub, before covering the seams with a second pair. But the bulky black knee brace he slipped on and buckled hadn’t harnessed a broken down knee in Grade 11. It hadn’t even been needed two years earlier in his rookie season of college basketball.

His third and final year at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, saw the 22-year-old seated pregame and in timeouts, yanking on straps and asking trainers for more tape. Two surgeries had left their mark on his right leg, just like back in Winnipeg Scheurmann had left his.

When spectators sat in the Charger’s royal blue bleachers the past three years, they likely noticed the six-foot-six forward’s physical play. They probably saw his passes from the post, finding open teammates everywhere and a frustration to will that ball through the hoop over two defenders. Perhaps they thought he didn’t always get the foul calls he deserved because he refused to go down.

No matter how hard Scheurmann got hit at either end of the court, you could count the number of times he hit the floor in his college career on one hand. It just wasn’t in his genes to play soft.

Maybe it’s a fear of hitting the floor he associates with injury. The December, 2008 evening he tore his ACL – the first league game of his Grade 12 year – Scheurmann ended up through the gym doorway at the end of the court. Taken down on a fast break dunk, he lay on his stomach, staring at a cold tile floor.

This wasn’t the play that ripped his tendon for the first time, but the impact on his gluts, hip, and quadriceps seized the muscles so tight that on their next jolt something had to give. A pull-up jump shot to end the quarter, just like the hundreds he had made in games and the thousands he had practiced on morning shoot arounds before class. That power dribble into a pounce, ready to spring up and let the ball fly was the last movement Scheurmann made with healthy knees.

On the morning of his MRI to determine the damage, he ran up the stairs for breakfast. Nobody suspected a torn ACL. It might be a sprain of the patella at worst, a physiotherapist father of a teammate told him. Time spent with his personal trainer since the summer before grade nine meant everything was strong. Not just strong enough to lift more weight than his teammates – although he did that too – tough enough to cover for a torn tendon. The muscles around his knee stabilized everything and nobody thought much of the injury.

The next night at a basketball game, his father Gary received a phone call from the teammate’s dad who originally looked at Scheurmann’s knee. The man’s name was on the MRI form as his physiotherapist, meaning he had access to the results early. Gary left the stands and took the news staring at a wall in the hallway. He had blown out his knee in grade 12 – likely an undiagnosed ACL tear. Scheurmann’s mom, Joy, had also ended her playing career in grade 12 with the same lacerated ligament. The physio told Gary the diagnosis. He hung up, but his eyes stayed on the blank wall.

When Scheurmann returned home and entered the kitchen later that night, everyone was still. Gary leaned against the counter gripping a beer, Joy sat at a table across the room nursing a glass of wine, and his older brother Kyle stood beside her with a bottle of Jack Daniels.

We got your MRI results, Gary told him. Joy stood up and left the room, unable to watch her boy hear it. You’ve torn your ACL.

Scheurmann sat on the kitchen floor and stayed there.

Going into grade 11, Scheurmann transferred from his local Kelvin High School – coached by Gary – to basketball powerhouse, Oak Park. Gary had coached him and Kyle since they started playing, but the opportunities available across town would allow the best shot at scholarships. Oak Park’s senior players won Provincial Championships in Grade 10 and 11, and were favourites to repeat. With the addition of Scheurmann – who could play guard or post – another trophy was all but guaranteed.

“He’s one of the best I have ever coached in a forty year career,” says Randy Kusano, who headed Oak Park for 34 years and now coaches at the University of Manitoba. “He would just drive and dunk on people… It was ridiculous. You just don’t see stuff like that around Winnipeg.”

Scheurmann started for Kusano’s team and helped lead them to the provincial final. Unfortunately for Oak Park, current University of Calgary star Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson and his Garden City teammates upset the defending champions.

Motivated by his graduated friends’ missed opportunity to finish their high school careers with a title, Scheurmann spent the summer teamed up with Ogungbemi-Jackson on the Manitoba provincial team. The pair played at the Under 17’s National Championships, where after being soundly beaten by Ontario – led by San Antonio Spurs point guard Cory Joseph – managed to finish a respectable fifth.

“I got a lot of confidence out of that summer,” says Scheurmann, who transitioned toward a bigger role for Oak Park as captain.

In the Brandon Sun pre-season tournament a few weeks before conference play began, Scheurmann wanted to make a statement about who should be on top. Oak Park won, beating Garden City in the final and he was awarded MVP.

“I was young and hadn’t been injured, so I wasn’t afraid to try and jump over someone, or through someone, which happened multiple times.”

In one game, Scheurmann powered down the middle of the key, took off and dunked over two defenders soaring in from opposite directions. Not only was one of the two a team Canada volleyball player, but while heading to the hoop, Scheurmann’s elbow accidentally caught the defender’s nose as if to emphasize the dunking term facial.

“I had some people tell me that was the best dunk they’d seen in high school basketball,” he says in a slow, calm tone that never hints at arrogance, but knows how things used to be.

Seated at half

At three years old, Scheurmann sat center court crying. That’s his first memory of basketball. Not playing with friends or winning or even having fun, just plopped down at half court – snotty nosed and red eyed – scared of the bigger boys. He had tagged along to his brother’s practice, but Kyle and the other six-year-olds were too much. Joy took him to racquetball, soccer, and Taekwondo too, but he cried there as well.

Narrow Eustachian tubes caused constant ear infections and affected Scheurmann’s hearing. He had a speech impediment and Kyle was the only one that understood him, translating his mispronunciations to their parents. Scheurmann was frightened of strangers and in preschool and kindergarten was so terrified of the photographer his individual school photos include his teacher.

He stuck with basketball because Kyle was there and Gary coached. As he kept playing, Scheurmann gained more and more confidence on and off the hardwood floor. His kindergarten teacher told Joy when he put things in the garbage, he would shoot it in. Every picture he drew had a basketball in it. Everything he talked about in the classroom or gym managed to include that game with the round orange ball.

For his fifth birthday all Scheurmann wanted was a hoop on the garage. That was his only present that year and he was ecstatic.

By grade three, he was ball boy for Kyle’s team, still coached by Gary. He sat on the YMCA bench in his white and black uniform, not good enough to get into games, but loved being there. He took pride in the odd basket he made against the older boys in practice.

Always tall for his age, Scheurmann never had a huge growth spurt, meaning he maintained coordination. He dominated kids his age and in grade eight got his first dunk in a game. This was the point his parents and the people around him realized university scholarships would soon start arriving.

The surgeon assured Joy and Gary he could postpone the ACL operation until summer. Coming back to finish his Grade 12 year with a knee brace, Scheurmann wasn’t able to leap like in pre-season, but could still take over high school games with his size and skills.

In the provincial semi-final of his Grade 12 year, he hoped the game would go like the previous season. Oak Park had been down eight points with two minutes left and Grade 11 Scheurmann demanded the ball. Five possessions in a row his teammates watched him power into the paint and score, bringing them back to win. Kyle and his friends stood on the sideline with a white and blue sign – which still sits in Scheurmann’s room – reading, That Just Happened!

“It wasn’t great coaching,” says Kusano, “it was just him putting on one of the best shows of individual basketball that anyone around here has ever seen.”

In Grade 12, the game ended for Scheurmann with a scream that sent shudders through everyone in the stadium. Another pull-up jump shot, late in the third quarter, tore cartilage in the same knee – his brace failing to protect it.

That summer he underwent surgery to learn the damage was worse than expected. Seventy-five percent of cartilage was removed along with the ACL and a new ACL was constructed from part of his hamstring.

Scheurmann accepted an injury “red shirt” position at the University of Victoria and got a 15-centimeter tattoo of a zipper down the side of his knee – the ink zipped to the top, showing his knee was held together.

Brace Out 2

After a year spent watching practices and attending UVic games in a shirt and tie, Scheurmann contemplated basketball at Camosun in 2010. He practiced with the team over summer, but decided to take a year off, working a retail job and starting classes at the college.

Just six-months later, his healthy knee ballooned out after a light shoot around. He ended up in hospital with a staph infection and was told another six to 12 hours without medical help could have cost him his leg or his life.

The 10 days spent propped up in that hospital ward helped Scheurmann decide he wasn’t finished with basketball.

A brace-less rookie season with Camosun in 2011 saw some of his athleticism return. Scheurmann was named to the conference All-Rookie team and the Chargers earned a bronze medal at Provincial Championships.

An end of season checkup with his new surgeon in Victoria, informed Scheurmann his ACL was non-functioning. Despite the operation originally being deemed successful, his body rejected the reconstructed ligament. Failure to firmly stabilize his tibia and femur placed further demands on the muscles around it. Due to the strength of the rest of his body, he was able to meet those demands and stabilize the knee – just like when he first tore the ACL in Grade 12.

The saying a shell of themselves is often thrown at athletes approaching retirement or returning from career altering injuries. Scheurmann’s college career could have been a time to sit back and reminisce about coaches sending Christmas cards and calling three times a week just to see how he was doing – anything that could help convince him to choose their program upon high school graduation.

What separates has-beens from great players is how they adapt to their new shell.

Supremely dominant athletes find ways to adjust their game and use whatever leftover gifts they had in their prime, while acquiring new tools. As Scheurmann could no longer rely on leaping ability in his second and third college seasons, he focused on a passing post game.

“He is probably one of the best passers I’ve seen,” says Camosun College coach Scot Cuachon, “he really has the mind and instincts of a point guard.”

Cuachon says watching Scheurmann from a coaching standpoint has been great, but from a fan perspective, seeing him move and work with his limitations was somewhat disheartening. “You could tell that all those things were there, and still are mentally, but physically it had to become too simple for a complex player.”

Athletes become reluctant after injury and it could be seen in Scheurmann not wanting to explode to the hoop or burst off his right leg in defence. Cuachon, who also underwent multiple knee surgeries relates to the frustration of returning with a brace.

“You could see glimpses,” says Cuachon, remembering the odd fast break dunk or rebound Scheurmann propelled towards.

When he returned from microfracture surgery going into his second year at Camosun, the meaning of Scheurmann’s zipper tattoo changed to easy re-entry.

Cuachon didn’t allow him to practice until a week before the season opener. “In all honesty, if it was anybody else I wouldn’t have let them play,” he says. But after speaking with the family and Scheurmann, he decided the decision wasn’t his to make.

Scheurmann’s playing time was limited to three-minute shifts, and little more than half a game on court, but he didn’t miss a practice all year.

Between an anxiety of reinjuring his knee and subpar conditioning, due to missing pre-season, 2012-13 was frustrating. Scheurmann tried to be the conference All-Rookie Team player he was a year earlier, except returning from major surgery prevented it. Adding to this, most of the senior players from the season before moved on and he was left with 10 new rookies and a body that wouldn’t cooperate. His numbers were down and hopes of repeating or improving Camosun’s previous PACWEST bronze, finished in a first round playoff exit to Quest University.

He almost retired after that second season. His parents wanted him to and his surgeon had already told him a year earlier if he hoped to continue competitive sport, he suggested swimming or cycling.

Scheurmann ignored them and came back in peak condition. His knee still required that bulky brace – which he describes as a burden when he plays, like running with an untied shoelace – but his fitness was there and he was throwing weights around the gym like blocks of Styrofoam.

The team started the season terribly, winning just one of eight games in first semester. After a big loss to rivals, Vancouver Island University, Scheurmann stayed at the gym with coach Cuachon.

I don’t have much left, he told him, but I’ll give you everything I’ve got.

“For all the flaws and mistakes that everybody makes,” says Cuachon, “I couldn’t have asked any more of the guy. I wish you could teach that kind of mental toughness.”

The second half of the year, the Chargers made a push for playoffs, securing fifth seed in the conference. Despite taking six classes per semester as part of being accepted into Camosun’s Civil Engineering program, Scheurmann led the team in points and rebounds – finishing tenth in the conference in points and ninth in rebounds.

His final game came at this year’s PACWEST division playoffs. Camosun played fourth seeded Capilano University with the winner receiving two more games and a chance to medal, while the loser headed home.

The previous morning before Scheurmann’s Chargers left for Vancouver, he walked upstairs to the kitchen. Have you checked Facebook? He asked Joy slowly. She shook her head. In a quiet voice, just like when he was still her little Trevy sitting on the YMCA bench watching Kyle play, he told her, I’m First All Star, Mommy.

Ball  Brace

The game against Capilano went back and forth within a few points from tipoff to finish. Scheurmann was unstoppable. He scored 29 points and ripped down 13 rebounds, all leading up to one final pull-up jump shot.

With eight seconds left, Scheurmann caught the sideline inbound pass.

A quick left leg pivot, just outside the three-point line, turned him toward the hoop and his defender. He assessed the situation and attacked right with a power dribble.

The Capilano forward slid to meet Scheurmann on his second dribble and upon contact bounced off. As another defender collapsed in towards the recoiling forward, the two collided, and Scheurmann’s man hit the floor.

Scheurmann looked up with six seconds left, stunned at the now open floor before him. But upon contact with his defender, he had picked up the ball to protect it.

From a long stride forward, Scheurmann pushed back off that braced right knee to gather balance over his left pivot foot.

He steadied, and after 37-minutes court time, propelled up off two tired legs.

The Camosun bench rose from their seats and a packed crowd went quiet.

Gary looked on from across the Georgia Strait at his office laptop.

Joy watched the live stream from her work monitor in Victoria too.

Back in Winnipeg, Scheurmann’s uncle and grandfather each had their desktop computers tuned into the PACWEST live stream, unwilling to miss a second.

The shot left Scheurmann’s palms without the usual guidance of his outstretched fingers – a common shooting trait when exhaustion sets in.

The ball headed towards the hoop, but didn’t make it over the front of the rim. That last clunk and a Capilano rebound – followed by two made free throws at the buzzer – sealed it.

Joy watched the screen as her boy sat in the corner of the court surrounded by teammates. Tears added to a sweat-soaked jersey he wouldn’t be able to wear again. Another pull-up jump shot had hurt him, only this time the pain wasn’t physical.

Straight after the final buzzer and the handshakes, Scheurmann had to pose for a photo accepting his PACWEST First-Team All Star award, still crying.

“It ripped me to pieces,” says Joy. “I felt that I failed as a mom because we weren’t there for him in his time of need on his very last basketball game.”

After the game, Scheurmann didn’t call his mom like he usually did. He had promised her the team would be playing Saturday so she could make it over to watch him. Instead he called his dad, saying, Why doesn’t this game like us?

Unreliable ACL’s and the much discussed “injury bug” swarmed the Scheurmann’s like mosquitoes in the Winnipeg summer. Surgeries, recoveries, and tears continued to associate themselves with the sport they spent years supporting. After that final missed field goal, it was finished.

Basketball took Gary east from Alberta to Manitoba and now Trevor had brought the Scheurmann’s back west to Vancouver Island.

The family used to have a “Wall of Fame” in their Winnipeg home basement with all of Kyle and Trevor’s trophies and medals. Alongside the boy’s awards, a photo of Joy winning Grade nine Provincials sat by a picture of Gary playing for the University of Winnipeg.

All that is upstairs in the Scheurmann’s Victoria house – which Trevor rents the downstairs – is a frame with four photos. The top left is of him as a kid, his eyes attacking the ball as he dribbles in a little gold uniform. The top right, he boxes out, awaiting a rebound as if paying homage to the Camosun game announcer’s nickname for him, Chairman of the Boards. On the bottom left of the black frame, Scheurmann puts down a reverse dunk in warm-ups, showing he can still play above the rim. And finally, bottom right, Joy and Gary’s favourite – Scheurmann, ball tucked under his left arm, throwing his right elbow at an opponent who is trying to take it.

“The look on his face is just like get the hell outta my way,” says Joy. “And that’s how Trevor played.”

Known to fly under the radar at times until an opponent annoyed him, Joy has warned people for years, “Don’t piss Trevor off.” As an incredibly laid back and calm guy off the court, on it Scheurmann was ready to take your head off.

For teammates, a big guy who passes out of the post and protects you from opponents is a dream. For opposing teams, there were likely choice words used to describe him at times in their locker room. It was clear, however, that he earned the respect of players and coaches around the league.

Scheurmann being named a Conference All-Star in his final season was, in part, opposing coaches – who voted for the award – paying homage to his career and work ethic.

“Leading up to that, I didn’t think Trevor did enough this year to make that First-Team All Star,” says Cuachon. “At least not stat wise… But I think that in three years, coaches have understood his history, his drive and determination. It wasn’t about the numbers anymore, it was about a guy who was just going to get after it.”

“That was the best thing that’s ever happened for him,” Joy says, still secured by a navy Oak Park sweatshirt, so worn it’s torn at the hood. “It’s the accomplishment that he needed to have to finish off his career.”

She lets out a few short breaths with each droplet down her cheeks.

“And us too… Because he kept getting kicked in the ass, kicked in the ass, kicked in the ass.”

She wipes each reddened cheek with an Oak Park sleeve and sniffles.

“I mean, it just never worked out for him and that for me is an accomplishment for everybody that’s worked so hard to help him to where he got.”

In high school, Kyle wrote a paper for religious studies. The class was asked to write a research report about their family’s church. Kyle said the gym was the Scheurmann’s church because it brought them together and they were always there on Sunday’s.

After all the early hours spent wondering what could have been if basketball didn’t need knees, this final award for the Scheurmann household at least brings a sense of completion – a pride that competition and hard work and Gary teaching his boys the right way to play the game paid off.

“Basketball might not like us,” says Joy, seated at the dining room table by the photos of her boy. “But it made us a family.”

Locker Room Tape 2

 

 

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