The devastating shock and worry about an injured teammate has passed. Silver Creek senior Alex Long, and his sister Sarah, were fortunate to survive the head-on car crash prior to last week’s game against Brownstown. Now the Dragons must cope with his loss on the court.
Long and his sister suffered broken bones and internal injuries that required surgery, and police speculate one of the reasons they managed to escape a lethal disaster was the seat belts they were wearing. Long’s teammates will have to buckle up to face the top-ranked team in Indiana, and the rest of the schedule, without him.
Class 3-A No. 8 Silver Creek will host Class 4-A No. 1 New Albany on Friday night. The Dragons (11-2) have not focused on the Bulldogs (12-1). They have spent several days wondering about Long’s immediate future, and now their own as they face the absence of a starter and team leader.
“It’s all been about Silver Creek, what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play without him the rest of the year,” Silver Creek coach Brandon Hoffman said. “We’ve talked a lot about that. We’re not going to replace Alex and all he did with one or two people. It’s going to be a collective thing, where people have to step up a little more and do a little extra.”
Long was worth more than his 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds. He was Silver Creek’s best defender, what Hoffman referred to as a “great teammate, a glue guy” that held pieces in place.
“It’s the maturity he had, the leadership,” Hoffman said. “Even at practice, you could tell.”
The Bulldogs have empathy for Silver Creek’s emotional trauma. Losing a teammate to an injury is one thing, but having someone close go through a near-death experience makes it personal and tougher. But when the ball is tossed in the air, the focus will shift back to the game.
“Our hearts go out to Silver Creek and the Long family, dealing with the situation they’re dealing with,” New Albany coach Jim Shannon said. “It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. We’re just so happy both kids are going to be OK.
“That being said, we’re going to come and play the game. It’s an important game for both teams. They’ve been close to getting us a few times lately. Both teams will be looking forward to it.”
Silver Creek’s instant adjustment was inserting freshman Zane Gross (averaging 5.8 points) in the lineup. Now with more than an hour to think about the changes, Hoffman and his staff have been busy discussing options. They will depend on even more from senior center Christian Reed (19.0 points, 8.5 rebounds) and senior guard Ryan Baker (14.2 points). The latest phrase in coachspeak is “next man up.” That certainly applies now.
“They’ll just have to find a way to accept they have to play without him and figure it out,” Shannon said. “They’re missing more than just his points and rebounds, there’s no question about that. But they have enough kids on that team that they’re still going to be very successful.
“Christian has always presented a problem for us because of his size and ability to score. He will be a load for us to handle. We just have to figure out a way to do it.”
If Silver Creek doesn’t have enough concerns, consider the defensive headache of New Albany sophomore Romeo Langford (28.0 points per game). He’s been on a tear of late, scoring a school-record 44 and encoring that with 33 in his last two games. New Albany also has other weapons in junior Isaac Hibbard and explosive guard Josh Jefferson, but Langford warrants the most attention.
“You have to compete with him,” Hoffman said. “Romeo is great. He’s probably the best player we’ll play against. But we want to compete with him, not just be in awe of him or worry about how good he is. We want to compete and make things as tough as possible on him.
“When you take the other players on that team, those are pretty good players, too. He’s a great player, but they have a lot of really good pieces around him.”
New Albany has won 17 straight in the series since Silver Creek’s 67-59 win during the 1997-98 season. New Albany’s last two visits to Silver Creek have ended in three-point victories.
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at email@example.com