There’s physical pain, and there’s the pain that comes with losing something for which you care very much. On Oct. 6, Dustin West felt both simultaneously, and that’s one of the worst pains of all.
“Basketball’s everything. Basketball’s always been there,” West, a senior at Madison Area Memorial High School, said. “This game means everything to me.”
Now playing his final season for the Bulldogs, West is more thankful than ever for the game he loves. This entire season is a gift.
On Oct. 6, on one play in an AAU game at Cony High School in Augusta, West thought basketball was over. His team was on a two-on-one breakaway. A teammate went up for a layup, and West jumped too, following for a possible tip in if the shot was off.
An opponent slid underneath West, causing him to fall awkwardly. West hit the court hard, and knew immediately he was severely hurt. His arms were underneath his body, and his wrists just felt… gone.
“I felt everything in my wrists separate,” West said.
A nurse in the stands rushed to the court to help. As he was laying on the ground, tears welling in his eyes as he looked at the ceiling, West heard a voice say one of those most deflating things of his life.
“I heard somebody say, âHe’ll never shoot a basketball again.'” West recalled.
West has a sweet shot. Last season, he was among the top free throw shooters in the Mountain Valley Conference. The day after the injury, West was in surgery for two hours. Each wrist now has a titanium plate. In one wrist, there’s 11 screws. In the other, an even dozen. West woke up in the recovery room, and he wondered if that voice he heard in the Cony gym was right.
“It was one of the scariest things of my life,” West said. “You never realize how much you use your hands until you don’t have them.”
West relied on help from his parents, Rick and Cherie West, for everything.
“I can’t thank my parents enough. They missed work. They stayed with me,” West said.
West worked with his brother, Randy McMullen, a former Madison basketball standout himself who now works as an occupational therapist. While his teammates went through tryouts and early season practices, West was on the sidelines, hoping he’d play this season. When he could, West took part in light practices. He ran, a lot, because to stay in basketball shape, that was the easiest thing to do.
In mid-December, the casts came off. On Dec. 18, West played in his first game, at Hall-Dale. His first two shots rimmed out. His third, a foul line jumper went in. The Madison fans went wild. It was the only basket West made in the game, a tough 47-38 loss, but it may have been the most important basket of his career.
“I heard the cheers, and I thought to myself, âI’m back.'” West said.
West followed up with a 10-point, 10-rebound effort in a 50-26 win over Mountain Valley. He said he feels good, but West also catches himself holding back at times. He’ll pull his arms down going for a rebound, he’s anxious when he takes a charge. Some opponents, knowing the injury West had, will hack and grab at his wrists.
“I’m still not at 100 percent range of motion,” West said. “I may never have it in the right wrist.”
Now, the goal is to help Madison make the Western Class C tournament (the Bulldogs are 5-7 and ranked 11th in the region). West would like to play basketball in college, and plans on applying to Thomas, Husson and the University of Maine at Farmington. He knows it will be tough.
“Colleges don’t really look at a kid with two broken wrists,” West said.
What coaches should look at is a kid with the will to work hard and come back from a devastating injury. Basketball may or may not be a part of West’s future. As he plays out his senior season of high school ball, West is ecstatic that it’s not just in his past.