Published Fri, Jan 25, 2013 4:58 pm Dateline
The “Achilles’ heel,” named after the great warrior Achilles in Greek mythology, is metaphor widely used throughout society to refer to someone’s mortal weakness—a “chink in the armor” so to speak that, if exploited, can destroy someone or something instantly. It was said that Achilles was invulnerable, except for a small spot on the back of his heel. Achilles led the Greeks through many wars with great success, until one fateful day when he took an arrow to a small spot on his heel. The tiny wound killed the great warrior, thus the term “Achilles’ heel” was born.
In the medical world, the Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of the lower leg, connecting the heel to the calf muscles, is vital to human’s ability to walk, run and jump. For athletes, an Achilles tear can often mean the end of their career as they know it. It’s widely considered the worst injury an athlete can suffer, with recovery times ranging anywhere from a year to 18 months and involving excruciating physical therapy to rehab the surgically repaired tendon.
For one Ohio men’s basketball player, the horrific injury and agonizing road to recovery became realities.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to play ball again because I heard the Achilles is one of the worst injuries that could possibly happen to a basketball player,” Kadeem Green said of his own Achilles tendon rupture.
Heading into his senior season of high school at United Faith Christian Academy in North Carolina, Green was a highly touted recruit. The forward had just led his team to a North Carolina Class 1A state championship, defeating future NBA No. 1 overall pick John Wall and his Word of God Christian Academy team, 56-53. Green had offers on the table from the likes of Wake Forest, Xavier, Virginia Commonwealth and 16 other schools, but signed his allegiance to the University of Missouri at the beginning of his senior season. Things were going great for the big man; he was on his way to a successful Division I program and had his team in prime position to compete for another state championship.
But 15 games into his senior year, Green’s promising basketball career took a turn for the worst. He ruptured his Achilles tendon, and immediately began questioning his future in the sport.
“I didn't think I was going to play basketball again. It was tough,” Green said. “Also, it was tough watching my high school team get to the state championship again and throughout the season watching them.” Even without their star player, the Falcons captured another state title in 2010.
Missouri stuck with Green through his injury. When Green arrived in Columbia he was still in the midst of rehab, forcing him to sit out the entire 2010-2011 season while attempting to finally get back to 100 percent.
“At first I didn't think I was going to be able to adjust. But once I got (to Missouri) after working with the training staff over there, the trainers helped me,” Green said. “I just fought through all the pain and suffering from my Achilles to get better, a better player and a better person.”
Green was ready to play by the start of the 2011-12 season, but the new head coach for the Tigers was not ready to play him. Mike Anderson, the head coach who initially recruited Green, had taken a new job at the University of Arkansas. Frank Haith, Anderson’s replacement, ran a new, run-and-gun system that used Green sparingly. In the 11 games Green suited up for the Tigers in 2011, he averaged just 10.5 minutes on the court. Personal issues also began to burden the power forward, and before the midway point in the season was reached, he decided to depart from Columbia.
Though Green wouldn’t elaborate on certain issues that led to the transfer, being closer to home played a role in the decision, according to Green. Athens is an eight-hour drive from Green’s hometown of Toronto, Canada, while Columbia, Mo., is over 13 hours away from The Queen City.
Though he attended high school in North Carolina, Green was born and raised in Toronto. Despite the growing number of elite-level basketball players coming from Canada, it is still hard for many high school athletes to get noticed playing basketball in the hockey-obsessed nation to the north. That’s why Green, along with many of Toronto’s best high school basketball players of the past and present, chose to relocate to the States for his high school career.
“The thing about Toronto is we don't get a lot of recognition for ball because, you know, Canada is a hockey country,” Green said. “Everybody thinks hockey when they think of Canada, especially with Toronto.”
After choosing to transfer in early Janurary 2012, Green enrolled at Ohio University in time for spring quarter. Due to NCAA transfer rules, however, he was forced to sit out Ohio’s first nine games of the 2012-13 season before finally becoming eligible after the fall semester ended. With just six minutes remaining in the first half of Ohio’s loss to the Winthrop Eagles on Dec.15, Green took the floor as a Bobcat for the first time to a standing ovation.
Since then, Green has seen limited action in games with mixed results. Because he had to sit out for the latter half of last season and the first nine games of this season, the lengthy forward known for his rebounding and shot blocking still had not fully mastered Ohio’s offensive game by the time he stepped on the floor. In Ohio’s conference win over Buffalo on Jan. 9, Green fouled out of the game in just four minutes, but also chipped in six points. Green’s potential is evident; his athleticism, natural talent and work ethic make him an invaluable asset off the bench and make it easier for him to improve game by game.
So far this season Green has played in eight games for the ‘Cats, providing valuable minutes and length for a team that is often outsized.
“I think like everybody else, when you come off the bench you've got to be ready. You’re not sure how the circumstances are going to play out, so you've got to be ready and you just got to play hard and bring energy and do the things he does. He can score at the basket. He can block shots. He can rebound the ball,” Ohio head coach Jim Christian said the day after Ohio’s 12-point road win over Miami on Jan. 23.
Christian understands Green’s struggles that come with learning a new system and trying to find his own identity among an already-established veteran team.
“He hasn't played in a lot of games compared to some of these other guys. If you look at the experience factor they've played in so many more games. So practice is really important for him and he's getting there,” Christian said. “I think he's really helping us in a couple road games, at Western Michigan and last night (versus Miami) he gave us good minutes. He's like everybody else: he's biding his time. He's trying to learn and get better.”
Getting better is something Green has focused on since he ruptured his Achilles tendon nearly three years ago. Focusing on getting healthy was the first test, and he passed it with flying colors. Proving to everyone who doubted him that he does deserve to be on the court is the next assignment. The humble big man showed a fiery side when talking about what drives him to continue to fight back despite the setbacks of a severe injury and a transfer.
“Everybody out there from day one didn't think I would be able to play Division I basketball, and people who are still out there that think they underestimate my talent. They underestimate me. That’s what still drives me today, at practice and on the court to prove all the haters wrong,” Green said.
Although his minutes come sparingly, Green is starting to show the signs of athleticism and raw talent that once earned him an 89 recruiting rating from ESPN.com. Though it once looked like he might never play competitive basketball ever again, Green battled back from a significant injury and is now making strides on the court.
The Greek warrior Achilles’ vulnerable heel proved to be a fatal weakness, as he died from his wound. But Green professes that his injury has made him stronger both as a person and a basketball player. The redshirt sophomore now figures to be a key player in Ohio Basketball’s future success, playing on his surgically repaired “Achilles heel.”