By Jeff Goodman
After Luke Apfeld did it for the third time, in a preseason game as a freshman at Vermont, one of his former coaches suggested he sign up for a Facebook page.
"It was for anyone who had torn their ACL three times," The Catamounts one-time ultra-athletic forward said. "Now I'm an official member."
Apfeld can joke about it now, since he's as healthy as he's been since first tearing his right knee in a summer event in July of 2008. But this is no joke. Imagine going through the arduous rehab process three times.
Apfeld suffered the first injury prior to committing to Vermont in July of 2008. Then he rehabbed and tore the ACL in his other knee in the second practice of his senior year at Brewster Academy -- in January of 2009. Then came another rehab stint followed by yet another knee injury, this one coming in November of 2009 when he tore the right one again.
That's three within about a 16-month span. Enough to make just about anyone throw in the towel.
"I thought about giving up basketball," Apfeld admitted. "My doctor wanted me to hang it up, that the risk after doing it three times is as high as it can be. He told my parents that my body wouldn't be able to take it if it happened again."
But Apfeld had put so much into three rehabs to get onto the court and he had yet to play a college basketball game.
Now Apfeld is a starter, as a redshirt sophomore, at Vermont. He's second on the team in scoring (9.8 ppg) and rebounding (4.1 rpg) while playing 21.7 minutes per game.
"It's worked out," Apfeld said. "I've kept my fingers crossed and am keeping them crossed."
Apfeld's game has changed due to the injuries. He's no longer a pogo stick and has now worked on his skill, which fits well into new coach John Becker's flex system.
"I remember being able to jump off one leg really well," he said. "I can't do that anymore. Now I'm more of a two-foot guy. ... I know I'll never get that athleticism I used to have back."
But Apfeld is fine with that - as long as he can remain healthy and continue to be a key contributor.
"It's definitely a relief to see results," he said. "Everyone talks about how hard work pays off, but for the first couple years I didn't really see any results on the court. It feels good now that all the work and rehabs have paid off."
Since Apfeld is an expert in terms of coming back from major knee injuries (I'm not sure there's anyone else who has suffered three torn ACL's and returned), he's got some advice.
"The physical part of the rehab is the easiest thing," Apfeld added. "The most difficult part is the mental aspect. You've got to keep the faith and know you're going to get back on the court. Keep that mindset, come in ready to work every day."