Anna Pitingolo (@anna_pitingolo)
Myles Stephens was on Cloud Nine in April of 2014.
He had just committed to play at Princeton in March, and everything seemed to be going great for him. And even when he went down with a knee injury that month, he didn’t expect it to sideline him for very long, let alone keep him away from the game for a full season.
But after further evaluation, the diagnosis blindsided Stephens: a torn ACL in his right knee ended his senior year before it had even begun.
“I had no idea,” Stephens said. “I thought it was a bad bruise...I’d heard that you hear a snap [when you tear an ACL], and I didn’t hear a snap, and I walked off the court, so I had no idea.”
After undergoing surgery in July, Stephens worked towards getting back into the shape he was in before his injury. And while he was limited in what he could do, Stephens knew that he had to be in the gym everyday to keep up with his competitors, who were now a year ahead of him in training.
“I knew I had to work hard to get back to where I was before,” the 6-foot-4 combo guard said. “I was doing something every day. Even though I couldn’t shoot, I was working on my ball handling.”
Save for the few minutes that Stephens was able to play on his senior night at St. Andrews (Del.), which he described as the highlight of his year, the Mary Kline Classic marked his official return to the court.
He logged just under 20 minutes and scored six points in his teams 116-112 loss. And while he was cautious throughout the game, he didn’t shy away from slamming home a dunk in the second half, showing that his knee isn’t hindering him anymore.
Stephens was cleared to play in competitive games in mid-April, and is happy with how his knee has been feeling in the weeks since then. The only thing still bothering him isn’t even his knee; it’s the protective brace that he now wears to avoid further injury.
“It [my knee] has felt pretty good. The only thing that bothers me is my calf tightens up with this brace so that’s why you see me loosen the straps every now and then, but other than that my knee feels good,” he said.
Stephens’ AAU coach at WeR1, Matt Pauls, was on hand at the Classic to watch him play for the first time in a year, and expressed how pleased he was with the way Stephens has handled his injury, from his decisions to his attitude.
“He had an incredible injury that was a terrible setback for him,” Pauls said. “He did the right thing though, and he took a long time to recover.
"He was devastated…[but] he knew he would get better, and he handled it remarkably well. He’s still in recovery mode right now and he’s still getting back into it. You saw that tonight a little.”
It was during an AAU game that Stephens tore his ACL, one of the last games of his season, and Pauls, who is also co-director at WeR1, was overcome with emotions at the sight of Stephens checking into the senior game.
“It’s actually very emotional because you know, he played for me and he was a very important part of our team, and when he went down it was horrible,” Pauls said. “So to see him on the court again is actually pretty emotional. I’m so proud of him and some guys maybe would have quit, but he didn’t.”
Before he was a star player at St. Andrews, Stephens grew up in Mercer County, N.J and started his high school career at the Pennington School.
Stephens is now looking forward to returning to his New Jersey roots when he begins his freshman year at Princeton. Once there, he will be joining a four-man recruiting class with an Ivy League team that finished last season 16-14 (9-5).
“I really like the team down there, [and] really the main reason I went there is because of the recruiting class last year,” he said. “So I’m going to really enjoy playing with them. A lot of kids from Jersey go there, so that’s going to be really fun. I know a lot of them so I’m excited for that.”
And Pauls has a bright outlook for the future of his former player as he takes this next step in his career.
“Make no mistake about it," he said, "he’s going to have a career at Princeton that’s going to be remarkable."