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OFA, Potsdam hoop players return after injuries

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Ogdensburg Free Academy coach Mark Henry will be minus one of his assistant coaches in the upcoming high school boys Northern Athletic Conference Central Division basketball season that begins tonight.

Potsdam coach Brooks Bigwarfe had to find a new person to do his scorebook.

And both coaches couldn’t be happier for the vacancies in their support staff.

That’s because OFA senior Cavan LaRose and Potsdam junior Will Coleman will be back on the court after missing last season with injuries.

LaRose underwent total reconstructive knee surgery after an injury suffered in an open gym session last October. He did make it back for the final two weeks of the baseball season and helped the Blue Devils win a Section 10 Class B title.

Coleman suffered a broken ankle in a football playoff game in October 2011 and was unable to return to scholastic action until this fall’s gridiron campaign, where he quarterbacked the Sandstoners to an undefeated NAC regular-season championship.

Both will be counted for leadership in different scenarios.

Both will be reunited on the court with teammates who have played together since elementary school.

LaRose joins an OFA team that returns its starting five from a 14-5 team, which includes his twin brother, Breton, and his younger brother, Kinnon, Matt Piercey, Pat Cosmo and Colin Ross.

“Cavan LaRose works extremely hard all of the time and he is one of those players who can quietly lead by example,” Henry said of his two-year tri-captain, serving along with Breton LaRose and Cosmo.

Coleman, the youngest of five brothers who have excelled in athletics at Potsdam and Indian River, will be called upon to become a main cog for Potsdam, which graduated three starters from last year’s 16-2 NAC Central Division and Section 10 Class B championship team. Coleman, who played briefly as a freshman, will anchor the new Potsdam nucleus with returning regulars in guard Konner Bigwarfe, 6-foot-7 center Shawn Clark and forward Owen Mitchell.

“Of three Coleman brothers that I have worked with, Will is the smallest, but he is definitely the most vocal. We are looking for him to shoot and distribute the ball and run the offense. It’s just great to have him back,” said Potsdam coach Brooks Bigwarfe, who succeeds Steve Kmack after serving as assistant coach for six years.

UNEXPECTED TURN

Last October, Cavan LaRose was looking forward to the 2011-12 OFA basketball season like no other season in his life. As a junior, he played with Breton and Kinnon, now a freshman.

He had fully recovered from an elbow injury the previous March and was looking forward to following up a promising sophomore basketball campaign in which he scored 11 points a game and led the team in rebounding.

But his anticipation dampened in an instant when his left knee collapsed in an open gym session.

“I made a steal and went for a layup. When I planted my knee it just collapsed,” LaRose recalled. “It had been a little sore before then but I didn’t think much of it.”

His knee was completely rebuilt by Dr. Billy Smith, an Ogdensburg native, at Lake Placid Sports Medicine.

“The doctor told me that if I did all the rehab that it would take six months to get back physically, and maybe as much as a year to get back mentally,” LaRose said.

“It’s been a year and I really feel great. The knee feels strong and over the summer I did a lot of sprints, and I think that my speed is almost there.”

Henry has seen the speed and loves the fact that LaRose is playing without a brace and running just a shade behind Ross at the front of the team’s sprint drills.

“Cavan never felt sorry for himself and earned everyone’s respect because of the way he worked so hard to get back,” Henry said. “It’s just great to have him back. This group has played together all their lives and is totally unselfish.”

While going through the extreme pain in the aftermath of the surgery and the endless hours of grueling rehabilitation, LaRose kept one thing in the forefront.

He couldn’t play, but he was going to be a tri-captain for a young team with a unique skill package. That skill package allowed Henry to execute an offense with multiple ballhandlers, multiple 3-point shooting options and multiple options of taking the ball to the basket.

And an offense where everyone instinctively shares the ball.

“It wasn’t about me. It was about them,” said LaRose, whose presence should greatly enhance the Devils’ rebounding on both backboards.

And now it is all about us.

PAINFUL INJURY

Coleman had never been hurt at all before the 2011 football playoff game with Massena. But he knew right away that his right ankle was severely injured when he went down.

He underwent surgery at the Canton-Potsdam Hospital and learned that, in all likelihood, he would sidelined from athletics for the rest of the school year.

He accepted the news stoically and quietly went about the business of healing.

“I didn’t have to do a lot of rehabilitation it just a matter of waiting, which was tough,” Coleman said. “They gave me exercises to do and that’s what I did and I relied on my family for support.”

Coleman, who plays the trumpet in the band, stayed active with the team, kept the scorebook at games and attended some practices, but related that he “stayed away from basketball a little and worked on some other things.”

But now he is ready to rejoin his teammates and make a complete comeback just as he did in football.

“My recovery was slow, but I am virtually 100 percent. I could feel my mobility was getting better all through football,” said Coleman, who has bolstered his skills and strength through lifelong pickup games with brothers John and Jerry, who are now playing at Clarkson University.

“It’s been the same way in basketball and it is just great to be back. I really enjoy football, basketball and baseball and work on all three throughout the year.”

Bigwarfe said that seeing Coleman operating at full speed on the court was a huge lift for his team.

“Everyone was really excited to have Will back and he really enjoys playing basketball with group,” he said. “And we are ready for a real challenge right off the bat playing Malone, Massena and OFA in our first three games.”

Coleman can’t wait for the 2012-13 Sandstoners’ baptism of fire.

“It’s great to be on top and we really want to stay there. We have a very good team and share the responsibilities very well,” said Coleman, ideally suited for the Potsdam tradition of success through shutdown defense and fluid passing.

“Our first three games are really going to be good ones.”

NAC OUTLOOK

The Central Division should be competitive. OFA and Potsdam met for the Class B title last year, with Potsdam winning, and Massena and Malone at the only two Class A teams in Section 10.

The North Division features state Class D finalist Madrid-Waddington along with Class C champion St. Lawrence Central.

Chateaugay and St. Regis Falls figure to be two of the top teams in the East Division while defending champion Harrisville, Lisbon and Heuvelton should contend after finishing just one game behind.

Some of the top individual returners include: Malone’s Mitch Gallgher, OFA’s Breton and Cavan LaRose, Potsdam’s Will Coleman and Konnor Bigwarfe, St. Regis Falls’ Caleb Green, Madrid-Waddington’s Colin O’Bryan and St. Lawrence Central’s Zane Ramsdell.

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