It hurt for Science Hill’s Hunter LeVeau not to play, but not knowing why was excruciating.
The 6-foot-5 senior missed the first 13 games this season due to a bulging disc in his back, an ailment that apparently took some six months to diagnose.
LeVeau first felt pain in his left hamstring area before his second AAU tournament last spring. He said he never felt any pain in his left knee, but yielding to supposed medical expertise, he agreed to have surgery.
It didn’t remedy the pain, the source of which wasn’t located until an MRI the first week of December. So LeVeau got a cortisone injection on Dec. 6 and began playing on Dec. 28 in Hawaii.
He scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the championship win in Hawaii, and is averaging 10.6 points and around 15 minutes per game.
LeVeau scored 10 of his 11 points during a 2:20 span of the second quarter in a win at Daniel Boone on Friday. The barrage included a 15-footer, a three-point play via a weak-side put-back with the left hand and two baskets assisted by Reed Hayes — a 3-pointer and a transition lay-in. He also blocked three shots.
But that said, LeVeau doesn’t resemble the athletic player he was when healthy, the one that could go up from a stationary position under the basket and dunk. And this is why the once-steady recruiting interest from the bigger college programs has all but ebbed.
Whereas Jacksonville seemed to be edging near an offer last spring after his first tournament with the Tennessee Ice, and feeler interest was coming from Appalachian State, Princeton and Chattanooga, the primary love now comes from NAIA Division II Milligan College and NCAA Division II schools.
Letters from larger schools have slowed to a trickle, thanks to missing the showcase events of his most crucial AAA season.
“They all kind of stopped because I was off the map,” LeVeau said Saturday.
LeVeau said he’s a believer in everything happening for a reason, and isn’t too stressed considering the circumstances. Part of the silver lining is that it’s become apparent he can help in a complementary role at less than 100 percent, and he’s complementing a team that’s demonstrated ideal chemistry in dashing to a 17-1 record.
Even when he was sidelined, LeVeau said he was having more fun this season than he had in previous ones.
“This team just clicks,” he said.
LeVeau instantly summarizes the contributions of many teammates with a mixture of pride and excitement: Hayes playing beyond his size in the frontcourt; Zach Howard playing well while taking on more leadership as a senior; C.J. Good and Will Adams catalyzing the offense; Tre’vonn Fields performing beyond his experience level while displaying a variety of skills.
Indeed, Science Hill’s coaches and players seem to have added purpose in the effort of those present trumping the absence of Shannon Hale and Jaylen Allen, who transferred to Christ School near Asheville in Arden, N.C. Of course, Hale and Allen were invaluable in Christ School’s Arby’s Classic championship last week.
“I don’t know if it was us having something to prove,” LeVeau said. “It’s just getting everybody to realize we’re still Science Hill.”
The Hilltoppers heard about how they were going to be short and skinny.
“But nobody’s really talking too much now,” LeVeau said.
He didn’t sound arrogant saying it. Instead, it sounded like the lack of chatter had just occurred to him.
Science Hill’s start is especially impressive when you factor LeVeau into the attrition. He was a sixth man many thought should be starting in 2010-11.
He scored 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including three 3-pointers, against David Crockett. He had 11 points (his approximate season average), eight assists and six rebounds in a 67-49 victory against Tennessee High. He scored 23 of Science Hill’s 68 points and had seven rebounds in the Arby’s Classic while helping the Hilltoppers keep a good Hampton team that reached the Class A state semifinals at bay in a 14-point victory.
His potential senior season seemed to be without bounds.
“It was really frustrating, especially not playing against Oak Hill and Dobyns-Bennett and the other big games,” LeVeau said.
Hilltoppers head coach Ken Cutlip said LeVeau looked like he was moving better at Boone than he did in Hawaii.
“He looked a lot better getting his hands on balls defensively,” Cutlip said. “And with his length, he’s able to contest and block some shots. He’s nowhere near where he was, but he’s a smart player and he can still be effective for us. The kid’s had seven months off.”
Daniel Boone coach Ryan Arnold said Science Hill is more likely to win big games with LeVeau, even if he’s less than 100 percent.
“He’s such a good shooter, too,” Arnold said. “He may not be where he was last year before he got hurt, but I think he’s still pivotal — a very big player for them.”
If the pain LeVeau downplays progresses, he could get another injection on Feb. 6. But he said that’s doubtful, because he’d have to miss another week afterward.
And nothing hurts, LeVeau will tell you, nearly as much as not playing.