INDIANAPOLIS — Josh Speidel might not score points or grab rebounds for the Vermont Catamounts. Yet he is redefining what it means to be on a team.
From the moment he enrolled at the Burlington campus, he has become part of Team Josh. There are tutors and an academic adviser, strength coach and athletic trainer, basketball coaches and players.
“I still love the game of basketball. I still am willing to work out,” Speidel said. “No one knows, like, where this journey will end up. I don’t want to … I don’t think I could live with myself if I were to quit now.”
Speidel, 20, is the former Columbus North player who had a traumatic brain injury from a Feb. 1, 2015 car collision. He is traveling with the Vermont team that plays No. 13 Butler on Wednesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The freshman will sit on the Vermont bench, probably wearing a bow tie that is his trademark. He will try to control the tremor in his right arm, and will, of course, long to be on the floor where he once played a summer tournament.
He knows two of the Bulldogs’ freshmen: Pendleton Heights’ Sean McDermott, a teammate on the 2015 Indiana All-Stars, and Southport’s Joey Brunk.
Conventional wisdom is Speidel should have gone to college closer to home. On the other hand, youths go to college to grow up, become independent, prepare for a career. Vermont honored its original scholarship offer to Speidel, and so Vermont it was.
The state university has a Latin motto:
Studiis et Rebus Honestis.
That means, “For studies and other honest pursuits.”
Perhaps there is no better place. Vermont coach John Becker called the decision to leave Indiana a courageous one.
“As we talked with the family, it was the thing that had to happen,” Becker said. “He needed to kind of get away to challenge himself, to figure himself out. There’s been some trying moments. There’s been some moments, like most freshmen, when he wanted to go home.”
Speidel’s mother, Lisa, acknowledged the decision to go to Vermont was Josh’s – not that of his father, Dave, or mother.
“We didn’t have to convince him to go. He had to convince us that it was appropriate,” said Lisa, an assistant principal at a Seymour elementary school.
Becker said Speidel looks visibly relieved now that final exams are over. In that respect, he is like all his teammates. All freshmen, for that matter.
Speidel completed 10 credit hours in the fall semester. He is so invested in academics that he misses some road trips. He will stay home in Columbus for a couple of weeks before rejoining the team.
He has not picked a major, although he gained some experience helping students at Margaret R. Brown Elementary, his mother’s school. Education is under consideration.
“He’s figuring out what his learning style is, knowing how to use his resources,” Lisa Speidel said.
Josh said a typical day starts with a morning workout, continues with classes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., basketball practice at 3 (he lifts weights) and then homework. He recently joined RUF (Reformed University Fellowship), a campus Bible study.
He struggles with short-term memory, his mother said, and he said he has trouble setting short-term goals. He can’t always recognize his own gains. For instance, his speech in a phone interview was better than when he spoke eight months ago at IndyStar Indiana Sports Awards.
If he is impatient … well, no one ever recovered from brain injury without a sense of urgency. Speidel “is wired to be competitive,” his mother said, and now he is competing against brain injury. Team Josh keeps after it, day by day.
“It’s been a collaborative thing,” Becker said. “It’s cool to see everyone working so hard.”
Call IndyStar reporter David Woods at (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.
VERMONT at NO. 13 BUTLER
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Hinkle Fieldhouse.
TV: Fox Sports Indiana.
Radio: WNFI-1070 AM and 93.5 FM
>> Vermont’s top scorer, Payton Henson (13.0 ppg), is sidelined by a knee injury. Anthony Lamb, a 6-7 freshman (11.4 ppg), is coming off a career-high 26 points in an 82-74 win over Eastern Michigan. Besides Josh Speidel, the Catamounts have three other Hoosiers: Ben Davis’ Dre Wills (4.8 ppg) and Evansville Harrison twins Ernie (10.3 ppg) and Everett Duncan. Vermont is 103rd in RPI, 89th in kenpom. Its losses include 80-58 at Providence, 72-71 to Houston and 68-50 at No. 20 South Carolina.
>> Butler’s Chris Holtmann (99-77) is one way from his 100th coaching victory. The Bulldogs have won 34 consecutive nonleague home games.
>> Saturday’s Crossroads Classic game between Butler and Indiana had the highest viewership ever on the Big Ten Network for nonconference play. The game earned a 0.59 household rating in 12 metered markets, exceeding by more than 40 percent the previous record: Purdue vs. Villanova, Nov. 14 (0.41).
>> Fans bringing a non-perishable food item to benefit Gleaners Food Bank will receive a coupon for Hinkle Fieldhouse’s Spirit Shop and concession stand.
— David Woods