Two years ago, Kellen Birdsall lay on the court during a preseason AAU game, thoughts of frustration pulsing through his mind.
The brief moment of intense pain had passed after the tibia in his right leg had snapped and a warm, tingly feeling swept his body as shock set in. A teammate and a ref both ran the opposite way after seeing the bone push against the skin, nearly protruding from the body.
It was frustration, not pain, though, that Birdsall felt as he lay on the hardwood and waited for an ambulance to arrive.
“I was going to be on varsity and then I played all summer and stuff, and then to break your leg right before the season started kind of (stunk),” Birdsall said.
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Playing at full strength for the first time in two years, the 6-foot-4 Liberty senior has become one of the premier scorers in the state, averaging 28 points per game through three contests. It’s not the broken tibia that has made Birdsall’s eye-opening scoring numbers this season impressive, but the string of injuries that followed.
Two months to the day of the initial injury, Birdsall put too much weight on his right side as he walked down steps at school, tearing his right quad.
Then — after intense rehab — the first practice of his junior season, he strained his right hip flexor. Back on the court four weeks later, he sprained the MCL in his left knee.
“I was in a funk,” Birdsall said. “I just kind of did my homework, went home. After my first injury, I would videotape the games and stuff, but after my second one — it was with a different coach — I was just kind of bummed he just had me videotape, so I didn’t go.
“It was just hard to be around it because I knew it was going to be awhile before I could touch a basketball again.”
It was 14 months from the initial injury before Birdsall could begin jogging. He eventually worked his way back for the latter half of last season, but was playing at about 70 percent full strength.
Birdsall spent his time during this past offseason working on the ball-handling, footwork and scoring routines that second-year head coach Omar Parker stresses. He has embraced the system that Parker has implemented at Liberty and what the team is striving to accomplish.
Liberty reached district for the first time in six years last season, and the team’s goal is to top that. It’s also Birdsall’s only real ambition, even though he has two years of personal accomplishments to make up for in one season.
“As long as I help us win, that’s all I care about,” Birdsall said.
With team success, Birdsall is surely going to find personal redemption. After two years on a seemingly never-ending cycle of injury and rehab, he is reaping the rewards for patience, hard work and trust in a coaching staff.
“I think (he’s) an example for any high-school kid, but definitely for the kids in our program,” Parker said, “to be able to point to that and say, ‘Look at what you can do if you work.’ ”