Star forward deals with season-ending injury
As his teammates ran up and down the floor, attempting to win a spot in the sub-state finals, Keaton Schaffer sat alone in a nearby locker room.
The Tonganoxie High senior forward had just tried to do some running of his own to no avail.
Convinced he wasn’t injured badly enough to be kept out of the THS boys basketball game against Pleasant Ridge, Schaffer ran in the locker room’s open area to see how well he was holding up.
“That’s when I knew there was no way I was gonna play,” Schaffer recalled a few days removed from his high school finale, a 64-61 Chieftains loss on March 5.
Minutes earlier, Schaffer was in the game, driving hard and fast for a layup when PRHS defender Matt Hager clipped his right leg out from under him. As Tonganoxie’s leading scorer fell head-first toward the hardwood, he knew he couldn’t catch himself, so he leaned his upper body forward to avoid cracking the back of his skull. But he landed square on his back.
As he lay on the Royal Valley High floor in Hoyt, Schaffer thought, “Oh my God, this can’t be happening.”
His back was in tremendous pain and his right leg was numb. Schaffer had no idea what was wrong with him. His mother worried it was a spinal injury, so they decided to get him out of there and go to a hospital.
Before leaving, he wanted to tell his Tonganoxie teammates goodbye. He got that chance at halftime, when he let the Chieftains know he was headed to Stormont-Vail Hospital in nearby Topeka.
“I just started crying. I said, ‘I need you guys to win this game,’” Schaffer related.
Later that night, after going through a CAT scan, he found out THS had lost and his high school career was officially over.
“I was just speechless,” Schaffer said.
It turned out Tonganoxie’s slasher had ruptured a right disk in his lower back. That affected a nerve in his right leg, leaving that limb with numbness. He couldn’t even put pressure on his right heel without feeling shockwaves all the way up his back.
There was no way he could have played in a sub-state final the day after his injury. However, Schaffer said one more win would have meant a lot to him.
“You don’t get a medal if you lose that semi game,” Schaffer said. “You don’t get nothing. I at least wanted to go out there with a medal.”
The forward entered what he called a “depression mode” for the next few days. Worsened by the pain of his fall — he couldn’t even sit down without feeling like somebody was sticking a knife in his back — he dwelled on the negative: the injury, the loss, the end of the season. At school, he sat in his seat without much interaction, frequently reviewing his misfortunes.
“Nothing like this ever entered my mind,” Schaffer said of his back injury. “I haven’t sat out one game my whole (career) — high school, middle school, anything. This was definitely a first.”
But by March 10, five days after the incident, he finally realized there was nothing he could do about it and started getting over it. He turned his focus to the positive.
“Knowing that my team did all they could and knowing that I can still go on to play basketball in college,” he said, were his mood-enhancers.
Doctors gave Schaffer a timetable of roughly two weeks or more for recovery. Once he’s up for it, he’ll be right back in the gym.
The senior has some upcoming workouts set up at a few colleges and plans on playing some basketball during his spring break to get back in shape.
“If I can’t run or jump, I’ll probably shoot,” he said.
The date Schaffer is targeting now is March 28 — the day of the Northeast Kansas showcase game in which he has been invited to play.
He wants to play in the all-star event, and if he’s at least 80 percent recovered, Schaffer said that’s exactly what he will do.
With another chance to play, he isn’t about to be sidelined again.