By GREG KEIM firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — EMMA — It has been a long and hard road back from a pair of knee surgeries for Westview High School senior Damon Hershberger.
There were times he didn’t know if he would ever play basketball again. But through hard work and determination he has returned to the Warrior program and has been a key ingredient as the team heads into Saturday’s Class 2A state championship with the Park Tudor Panthers around 12:45 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to play again,” Hershberger said. “My teammates were very encouraging. They kept talking to me and really talked me into coming back out.”
Hershberger missed the majority of his junior season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Dec. 12, 2012, in a game at East Noble. Surgery ended the season, but he returned last fall to play soccer only to injure the same knee and undergo more surgery.
The second surgery was about six weeks before basketball practice began.
“He was very late coming out. He kept asking me if I thought he should play.” Westview coach Rob Yoder said. “I told him, ‘If I knew what his lateral speed was going to be, I would know what to tell you.’ I felt the best thing to do was come out and try it. He returned a lot faster than I expected him to be.”
Hershberger shared how it felt when he was working his way back into game shape.
“I was pretty nervous, The biggest fear is tearing it again,” he said. “I was not sure how I would be physically and how long it would take to get up to game speed.”
He returned this season for the Lakeland game on Dec. 28.
The 6-0 Hershberger is averaging 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, but his value to the Warriors goes beyond his mere statistical contributions.
“His value to us in on defense,” Yoder said. “He can guard different positions, He is pretty strong, weighs enough to defend a bigger player, and is also quick enough to go up against smaller guys.”
In Westview’s 65-58 semistate win over Lewis Cass he defended 5-7 senior Blake Hadley, who was averaging 14.9 points per game. Hershberger held him to nine.
“My contribution is mainly on defense,” Hershberger said. “Either (senior) Jordyn Bontrager, (senior) Judah Zickafoose or I get the assignment of the opposing team’s best player.”
Park Tudor’s best is 6-6 senior Trevon Bluiett. The Mr. Basketball candidate is averaging 35.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per contest.
“We are probably going to split up the assignment on him,” Hershberger said.
His teammates were glad to see him return.
“He is a huge part of our team,” Bontrager said. “He is one of the reasons for our success. He wasn’t sure about coming out, but we talked to him a lot. It was really good to get him back.”
“Damon has helped us so much,” Zickafoose said. “He is one of our scrappy guys on defense. His return added a lot to our lineup.”
Follow sports reporter Greg Keim on twitter @gkeim_TGN.