LANGLEY — Ask Drake Downer about perhaps the most battle-scarred right knee in recent B.C. high school and university basketball history, and he’s more than happy to give an aural history and guided tour.
So how many times has it been injured?
“I’ve kind of lost track,” explains the 25-year-old Langara Falcons’ guard/forward here this week at the CCAA national championships, where a post-secondary career which has reached its eighth-and-final campaign draws ever closer to its conclusion.
“It’s been over 12 times that my knee has dislocated and I’d have to spend two-to-four months trying to come back,” he said, so much more healthy these days that on Friday he drained seven triples and finished with 28 points in the Falcons’ 98-92 consolation round loss against Laval’s Nomades de Montmorency at the Langley Events Centre. “I finally decided to get the surgery done last season.”
“We had a great first quarter, then in the second quarter we fell apart and turned it over way too many times,” said Eberhardt of his host Falcons. “But unlike yesterday, the guys made a nice run to pull within four (96-92 with 27 seconds remaining), so I am proud of the way we finished. It’s a learning experience. We’re not used to playing teams that are this athletic, and pressure us, but I thought we adapted. It would have been nice if we could have come all the way back, but it’s tough to spot a team like that 20 and still put out a win.”
While he hasn’t seen his name appear in the headlines a whole lot since graduating from a productive high school career in 2010-11 with Victoria’s Oak Bay Bays, Downer is the kind of student-athlete who, in this final week of post-secondary basketball in Canada, defines the true collegiate hoops warrior, and with one more game remaining in his college career, it was fitting he enjoyed one of his most productive offensive days and was named his team’s Player of the Game.
After spending his first two college seasons (2011-12, 2012-13) in his hometown with the PacWest’s Camosun Chargers, he took an extended stretch of down time, re-discovered his love for the game, and returned to action with Langara in 2015-16.
All he did that season was take the league by storm, starting all 21 of the team’s games while averaging 30.1 minutes and a team-high 17.2 points-per-game.
Downer came back just as strong in 2016-17, averaging 25.6 minutes and 16.2 points per game, yet part way through that season, the knee issues which first began as an 11th grader back at Oak Bay seven years prior, began to give him real cause for conern.
Despite being a conference all-star in both of his first two seasons with the Falcons, his second campaign with Langara lasted just 13 games.
“The knee cap would pop out to here, you can see the scars” he says, pointing at his lower extremity, “and so the MCL would stretch. When that happened, the patellar ligaments that would hold my knee cap in place would disintegrate. So when they did the surgery, they put those back in from my hamstring, but when they went in there, they also realized that I had about 20 per cent of meniscus left.”
That injury was enough to wipe out not only the second half of his 2016-17 season, but all of his 2017-18 campaign as well.
“He thought he was never playing again, but then he phoned me out of the blue and told me that he wanted to finish out his fifth year,” said Falcons head coach Paul Eberhardt of Downer re-joining the team after almost two full years away.
“Drake gives us that veteran leadership and he gives us our most competitive person,” continued Eberhardt. “He really picks up our intensity level.”
Downer, and fellow seniors Grant Galbraith and Timmie Choi are sure to have their share of emotional moments as their collegiate basketball careers come to an end Saturday.
For Downer’s part, it would have been easy to simply let the next phase of his life begin.
Instead, he came back this season with a purpose.
“To me, it was a personal vendetta,” explained Downer, who averaged 13.4 points over an impressive 32.2 minutes per game on the surgically-repaired knee. “It took me a long time to battle through all the injuries but now that it’s nice and healthy, I can end my career on my own terms.
“It’s been amazing that I got to do my schooling while playing the sport I love,” he added. “There is nothing better than that. I can’t do this forever and I’ve got a couple of days left until adult life begins.”
And as far as that is concerned, his experience has shaped his future.
“I am going into teaching and I want to be a teacher/coach,” he says. “Paul Eberhardt gave me the inspiration to do that.”
So much so, in fact, that over his 2017-18 injury redshirt season, Downer returned to Victoria and coached Oak Bay’s senior varsity ‘B’ team, while assisting head coach Chris Franklin with the senior varsity team, one which was ranked No. 1 for the majority of the B.C. Quad A season.
“I would love to go back to Oak Bay and give back and coach there,” Downer said. “They gave me four great years and I hope I can give them even more than that.”
While Downer sizzled, the Falcons could not find a collective answer for the 35 points of Montmorency’s Elie Karojo, who poured home a game-high 35 points to go along with 17 rebounds.
Point guard Royce Sargeant led Langara with 29 points and a game-high eight assists. Antonio Jhuty added 12 as the Falcons fought to come back from a 23-point deficit 45 seconds into the third quarter.
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