Nobody was near DJ Rossino when he crumpled to the floor during basketball practice last summer.
No, Lehighton's senior point guard was about to go up for a layup when his right knee suddenly gave out.
"It was our second practice of the summer," recalled Lehighton head coach Rich Oertner. "No one was around him. We were running the three-man-weave drill and he was going up for a layup and just fell to the floor."
At first Rossino and Oertner didn't think the injury was that bad. However after tests were done, it was revealed that he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament. He was told that depending on the procedure, the recovery could take anywhere between five to nine months and that his spring baseball season was in question. At the time basketball wasn't even in the picture.
"I was pretty upset," Rossino said. "It was supposed to be a big season for us. It was Coach Oertner's first year with the program and we wanted to get things started in the right direction. I was very disappointed when I found out that I might not be able to be apart of it."
Despite the bad news, Rossino turned his negative into a positive. He decided to defy the odds and immediately got to work by attending rehab three times a week over the next few months. He followed that up by doing knee stretches and exercises at home three to four times a day. He would also go to the gym to the test his knee on the hardwood. Over time it became evident that Rossino had a shot at returning for the Indians this basketball season.
"The recovery and the rehab was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do," said Rossino. "I've had other injuries, but this is at the top. I even had an allergic reaction to some of the medicine and ice that pushed me back a few weeks. It definitely wasn't fun.
"It was also hard to sit out and watch. There were a bunch of games that could have went either way. I really wish I could have played, but I didn't mind too much because I had confidence in my brother (Anthony)."
Earlier this month on Jan. 13, Rossino stepped back onto the court in an Indians' uniform for the first time this year. He played just a handful of minutes against Pocono Mountan West and finished with one point. Though Lehighton lost handedly and he didn't score much, Rossino had claimed a moral victory. He had won his battle with knee surgey and had beaten the odds.
Then, in just his fourth game back against Pocono Mountain East last Friday, Rossino passed the real test when he stayed on the floor for the majority of the contest. The game came down to the final seconds and Oertner needed his best players at his disposal. Lehighton eventualy lost 54-50, but Oertner chose to look on the bright side.
"We had lost our leader and it had become an issue for us," said Oertner. "We struggled because of that. I know DJ struggled too. Playing as a senior is what everyone dreams of. Not being able to do that had to be tough, but he has worked pretty hard.
"I know he isn't fully back and the season is basically just starting for him, but his return has helped. He brings that senior leadership back. East was really his first game back and we played well. If that is a sign of things to come then I am excited for these last few weeks."
Rossino says his goal for the rest of the year is to be consistent and not over-do anything. He feels it shouldn't be a problem, as most of the teams left on Lehighton's schedule like to sit in zones. Either way, he is just happy to be back out on the court.
"It's nice to be back out there," said Rossino. "I haven't thought about my knee that much. My only fear is with screens and when there are a bunch of knees around. Other than that I should be fine.
"I owe a lot of thanks to my parents and friends, as well as Gary Schoenberger and Stephen Strauss. I couldn't have done this without them."
HEAVYWEIGHT REMATCH ... The Jim Thorpe girls' basketball team will travel to Blue Mountain this Friday with revenge on its mind.
The Lady Olympians, who are 15-1 overall and 7-1 in the Schuylkill League, will face off with the only team it has lost to this season.
The Blue Eagles are currently 8-0 in the Schuylkill League's Division I and hold a one-game advantage over the Olympians. Blue Mountain knocked off Jim Thorpe 41-35 back on Jan. 3. Celeste Robinson, the area's leading scorer at 25 points-per-game, totaled a season-low 15 points in the contest.
GOING DANCING ... Three local teams qualified for the District 11 playoffs this past week.
Both the Pleasant Valley boys' and girls' teams picked up their sixth Mountain Valley Conference win over the last seven days. The boys topped East Stroudsburg North 56-38 on Friday, while the girls outlasted East Stroudsburg South 54-50 on Tuesday.
The Northwestern girls also punched their ticket to the playoffs. The Lady Tigers defeated Saucon Valley 57-47 last Thursday to claim their eighth Colonial League win of the year.