The list is deep, varied and painful: a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a broken thumb, torn rib cartilage, turf toe, a broken nose.
That’s not the injury report for the Elmira Notre Dame boys basketball team. Those injuries all belong to senior swingman Tom Agan, one of the Crusaders’ top players. And they’ve all come within the last 14 months.
“I never got hurt before the ACL. Just bad luck in the past year. Hopefully it’s over,” Agan said. “The last year or so hasn’t been my year.”
The pain started Dec. 30 of 2012 when Agan tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while driving toward the hoop against Athens in the championship game of the Josh Palmer Fund Elmira Holiday Inn Tournament at Southside High School.
He recovered in time to play football, where he broke his thumb and suffered the rib injury, which forced him to the bench in the second half of a Section 4 Class D semifinal loss to Unatego.
Basketball season was going smoothly until he collided with teammate Darius Garvin in practice and broke his nose. The nose has been battered a bit since then, though Agan has tossed aside a faceguard he wore for three games. He said he’ll just get a second surgery on the nose if it is broken again. Doctor visits are second nature by now.
Notre Dame varsity football coach Mike D’Aloisio joked with Agan that they were going to suit him up in the Crusader suit of armor that sits inside the school.
Through all the pain, rehab and bandages, the 18-year-old Elmiran has not only stayed in the game, he has excelled and remained upbeat.
He was a first-team Class D all-state pick in football after combining for 1,563 yards and 21 touchdowns rushing and receiving. On the basketball court, he has played a big role for the Crusaders in their march to the state quarterfinals and a No. 2 Class C ranking by the New York State Sportswriters Association.
“He definitely takes on the hits,” said senior Derek Marshall, Agan’s teammate in football and basketball. “He’s got a heart to keep going through all of his injuries. Not only just go through them, but to continue playing sports and being a key player is pretty remarkable.”
He was bloodied when he was smacked in the nose Saturday in the Section 4 Class C final against Moravia at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. But like always, he got back up and came back to finish with 10 points and five rebounds in the Crusaders’ 65-62 victory.
“After the game was over with Moravia I put my head on his head and I told him I was so happy for him, knowing what he went through here in the last 13 months,” Notre Dame boys basketball coach Bill Hopkins said.
“With all the injuries, the ACL, the rehab, the self doubts — and then he gets a broken thumb, probably torn cartilage in his rib cage and he has turf toe, a broken nose. He gets wacked twice against Moravia, he gets knocked down and he gets back up again. You just feel for him with all he’s been through, but he’s not going to miss this opportunity.”
The Crusaders (20-1) have a shot to advance to Glens Falls for the Class C final four if they can beat Section 3 champion Waterville (20-2) on Saturday. Game time is 3:45 p.m. at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse.
Down but not out
At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Agan is a rugged athlete who routinely ran through and over tacklers on the football field. He comes from an athletic family and older sister Kate was a three-time all-state pick in basketball who helped the Crusaders to back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007. Their dad, Steve Agan, played on Notre Dame’s 1978 state championship basketball team.
Crusaders senior Nate Niles has been playing basketball with Agan since they were little kids.
“I’ve never seen Tom get beat up in my life,” Niles said. “Tom’s always been the kid who falls down and pops right back up and you didn’t even know he fell.”
That wasn’t the case the night he got hurt against Athens in the seventh game of the season. Agan was down on the court at Southside for several minutes before he was helped up.
Surgery was needed and Agan decided to have it sooner rather than later.
“The doctor actually gave me the option to either play the rest of the basketball season with a brace without getting surgery or to get the surgery and try to be ready for football,” he said. “That was the goal. I just worked hard and was able to achieve that.”
Following surgery last January, it took a great deal of physical therapy, running, gym time and shooting hoops in the driveway for Agan to recover. He returned to the basketball court in June for summer league.
Football practice started in August and the knee held up without issue, though Agan broke his thumb in the first half of a win against Groton and played through the pain.
The next week, with the thumb heavily bandaged, he ran for 134 yards and scored three touchdowns in a victory at Watkins Glen.
Agan hurt his ribs in a sectional quarterfinal win a week later against Walton. He came back to play the next week against Unatego in the semifinals — rushing for 99 yards and a touchdown in the first half — but he was having trouble breathing and sat out the second half of a 20-12 loss.
“He always goes out and tries even when he couldn’t do it,” D’Aloisio said. “He’s resilient. He bounces back from adversity better than anybody I’ve seen. … He’s always upbeat and positive. ‘Let’s deal with it and move on.’ You don’t see that in a lot of 17- and 18-year-old kids.”
‘A quality human being’
Agan is in his fourth season of varsity basketball and was a key member of the team that advanced to the state quarterfinals two years ago after winning the Section 4 Class C title.
He has started all 21 games this season and is averaging 11.8 points, a team-high 7.7 rebounds and leads the Crusaders in field goal percentage at 49 percent.
Hopkins said he is not exactly where he was before tearing the ACL, but added that Agan is “pretty close.”
Not showing up on the stat sheet is Agan’s leadership.
“We always look up to Tom as a player because he’s been through hell and back,” Niles said. “Now he’s here and he’s working his butt off and he’s scoring double-digits in championship games even with all these things going against him. We are all really proud of Tom and what he’s done.”
Hopkins and D’Aloisio both speak in the highest regard of Agan, who displays a rare maturity during athletic events that is combined with quiet intensity.
“He doesn’t show how he’s feeling inside or how he’s feeling with his leg or his toe or whatever, he just plays,” Hopkins said. “When he knocks somebody down, he’s sometimes the first guy to help that guy up. He’s a quality human being amongst being a competitor and a very talented player who possesses excellent skills at 6-foot-5. He’s very special.”
Said D’Aloisio: “Outside of all his athletic and academic ability, he’s just an outstanding individual who possesses great leadership qualities both on and off from the athletic arenas.”
Agan doesn’t play any spring sports, so he’ll get a chance to rest a bit. He’s planning to play college football as a tight end or wide receiver, though he hasn’t settled on a school yet.
The immediate task is to beat Waterville on Saturday and earn the trip to Glens Falls that eluded Agan and his teammates two years ago.
“Being here is something we thought we could do and now that we’ve made it we’re looking forward,” he said. “We’re looking forward one game at a time.
“We just need to go out and play like we play and we should hopefully come out with a win.”