When Sukhpreet Singh started feeling pain in his hip before last season, he assumed it was just wear and tear.
The men’s basketball guard, then in his second year, played all 22 regular season games in 2013-14 — despite getting an MRI midway through the season and learning he had a torn labrum.
The injury would require surgery and six months of intense physiotherapy. The clinic Queen’s Athletics referred Singh to after his MRI, meanwhile, had a six-month waiting period for the operation.
Singh decided to play through the injury. He finished 2013-14 averaging 12.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game — then underwent the surgery in July, kickstarting an extended, laborious recovery.
At first, the Toronto native was bedridden for a week.
“That was rough,” Singh said. “I couldn’t even move my leg without my mom or a friend coming down and helping me get out of bed just so I could use the bathroom or get some food.”
He hobbled on crutches for a month and began extensive physiotherapy — initially made up of basic movements like leg raises, leg slides and movements for the lower back and core.
Once Singh felt confident with those, he moved onto agility drills. Three months after surgery, strength gains became his next objective.
It wasn’t until November that the slippery point guard returned to the court — shooting around and performing basic basketball movements. He was back, but wouldn’t be at full strength until after the Christmas break.
It was both exciting and infuriating.
“You’re finally out there again and it’s such a blessing to be able to play and do what you love every day,” he said. “But it’s also frustrating, because you can’t move like you used to move, and if you try to, it hurts the next day.”
Singh’s goal was to get back to a place where he could help propel his team deep into the post-season. Last year, the Gaels were kicked out in the first round of the OUA East playoffs by the third-seeded Ryerson Rams.
While his teammates were gearing up for 2014-15, Singh knew he wouldn’t get to play until after winter holidays.
The Gaels dropped their first five games of the season and went into the break with a 2-5 record.
“It’s the worst feeling,” Singh said. “You’ve got to watch your team out there and when they’re struggling, you know you could be out there making a difference.”
Singh debuted in Queen’s Jan. 9 game against the Nipissing Lakers — almost exactly six months after his surgery. He scored 16 points in 20 minutes of action.
The recovery process wasn’t fuelled by any sort of sensational inspiration, Singh said, besides wanting above all to return to the court.
“My inspiration and motivation was just getting back out there, doing what I want to do and what I love every day,” he said. “To have that taken away, that was kind of my motivation to get back.”Since coming back, Singh has averaged 27 minutes of court-time, while tallying 11 points and five rebounds per game.
He also hit the game-winning shot in Queen’s 75-74 victory over the Western Mustangs on Jan.
31 — an end-to-end floater with a defender in his face, completing a madcap second-half comeback at the buzzer.
At 5-10, the Gaels are one win ahead of the Toronto Varsity Blues for the OUA’s final playoff spot. The teams will meet in the final game of the season on Feb. 21.
“It’s going to come down to that last game when we play them at U of T,” Singh said. “We’re in that playoff mentality. We’re going to get there. I know we will.”
Now healthy and back in action, Singh has already decided to come back for a fifth year in 2017, in the hopes of being part of a deep Gaels run.
“I just don’t want to leave here, especially without getting to where I want to get,” he said. “I don’t want to leave here till I get that nationals.”
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