Conway St. Joseph’s Bulldogs were 17-1 when they hit the Christmas break last season, but at Magnet Cove, in the first game following the break, Andrew Beck tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus while going up for a contested layup.
After that, the Bulldogs won just three more games.
But Beck, now a 6-1 senior, is back, and so are the Bulldogs.
At press time, they were 28-2 and one of the favorites to win the Class 2A state championship. The 2A 4-East District Tournament is at Conway Christian this week.
“He did a lot of things for us, and it was tough,” St. Joe coach Brent Bruich said of last year’s loss of Beck. “We got beat a lot of games that were really close, that could’ve gone either way. He was our point guard; he set people up. He was our leading scorer, a really explosive player.
“I hate it for our seniors who graduated, but it made those other guys better. It made everybody better. It not only made me hungry; it made those other guys hungry as far as wanting to do more this year.
“It gave him a different perspective. It made him hungry, too, to rehab and to have a great senior year. He’s done a phenomenal job, and I’m really proud of him.”
Beck agreed, to the point of echoing his coach’s language.
“I think it made us very hungry,” he said of his junior-year experience. “A lot of the sophomores last year got a lot of playing time, which is really helping us this year now that they’re juniors. We have an even better chance of winning a state championship this year than we did last year. We have all-around better chemistry, better players, and we work well together.”
At press time, the Bulldogs had lost only to Greenbrier, a Class 5A team, at the buzzer, and Harding Academy, a Class 3A quarterfinalist last year. The Bulldogs played Harding without Beck, who sprained an ankle and missed a few games.
After Beck’s return, Bruich largely moved him from the point to shooting guard or small forward, and the strategy has worked. Beck averages 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
Initially, he didn’t know the knee injury last season was as critical as it turned out to be.
“I got tested by our trainer,
and he said I was cleared to go back in the game, but I started to try to run and felt something in my leg moving and knew it was something serious,” Beck said. “I felt bad seeing my team out there in the second half of the season losing all those games, and I felt bad knowing I could’ve been out there helping them.”
He had surgery two weeks afterward, was in a brace for a couple of months and went through physical therapy for seven more — and had to miss baseball season.
“Rehab was tough, but I went in with the mindset that I had to get back and help my team,” he said. “My goal was to get back in August when we started practice.”
He reached that goal but admitted it was “weird” when he first returned.
“Getting to run again, making all the cuts, getting used to it,” he said. “When the season started, I definitely wasn’t 100 percent. I would say I was 75 or 80 percent, but I feel like I’m getting better every game.”
“He’s more like himself every day,” the coach said. “He’s learning to play with the brace, learning how to do some stuff. He seems more explosive each day.”
Beck is one of six St. Joseph seniors, joining Drew Bates, Andrew Kordsmeier, Cole Schichtl, Josh Antoine and Nathan Davidson. They were eighth-graders when the Bulldogs won the 2009 state championship. That has remained the goal every year, and this season, it’s so far, so good, although Beck said the 26-2 start had sort of taken him by surprise.
“I knew we were capable,” he said. “Every day in practice, I saw how good we were and how we could play to the best of our abilities.”
A 3.0 student, Beck would like to get a chance to play college basketball. Last year’s injury, though, cooled some of the interest from college coaches, so that’s even more reason to keep this season going as long as possible.
“I’m hoping we have a great postseason so he can get out there and people can see him,” Bruich said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he’s good enough to play at the next level. We’ve got to find the right fit for him.”
Not surprisingly, Beck has his goals in place.
“Our plan is to win that district tournament, get the No. 1 seed in the regional, win every game there, get the No. 1 seed in state and hope we win the state tournament,” he said. “That’s our plan.”
Don’t count him — or the Bulldogs — out.