Shavar Newkirk is a member of a club he never wanted to join, what they have termed “Unseen Hours.’’ The Saint Joseph’s point guard wryly explained his membership in a SJU club that remains far too crowded because four starters missed all or significant parts of last season.
“It’s the injured group,’’ Newkirk said. “When we are working out, it’s like nobody is going to see us working this hard.’’
Before last season, Newkirk had scored 392 points over two solid, if unspectacular, seasons. He was a role player trying to find his way as a freshman, fast, but with a shaky shot and admittedly not much confidence. He was much better as a sophomore starting point guard for the 2016 Atlantic 10 champions with a better shot and much more confidence.
Still, with the notable exception of one person, nobody saw last season coming. That person would be Shavar Newkirk.
“Just off of hard work,’’ he said when talking last Thursday at Hagan Arena. “I put in a lot of time in the gym with the coaches, with my father.’’
In 67 college games, Newkirk had never once scored 20 points. In his first 11 games last season, he scored 20 or more eight times. He had the same speed, with more savvy and a game that worked at every level of the court. He was a brilliant player on his way to another 20-point game in the Atlantic 10 opener at Hagan against George Washington last Dec. 30 when he made an acrobatic steal at midcourt seconds before halftime. His quickness got him to the lane before the buzzer, but when he planted to go up for a layup, his left leg gave way.
“I thought I had just tweaked my knee and I’d be all right,’’ Newkirk said. “When I hit the floor and they told me to get up, I knew it was something more serious because I couldn’t get up willingly.’’ In fact, he could not feel his leg.
From the time his father, Sharied, taught himself basketball by reading books, watching film and listening to documentaries so he could teach his two sons the game, Newkirk who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., had never been hurt and never missed a game. That play would be the last of his junior year, the ACL in his left knee torn, the promise of a transcendent season gone in an instant.
“No warning, it just happened,’’ Newkirk said.
St. Joe’s was 7-5 with Newkirk, 4-15 without him. Five of those losses were by five points or fewer. Without DeAndre’ Bembry and Zeke Miles from those A-10 champs, the Hawks ceiling was probably around .500. Without Newkirk, the floor rose up and the ceiling disappeared.
“It was tough watching my teammates, and the most I could do was cheer them on and give them advice and not really be there physically to help them.’’ Newkirk said.
So he became an assistant to the assistant coaches. He remembered “having a rough start as a freshman.’’ So when he saw some of his young teammates trying to find their way, he was there to provide guidance.
This college basketball season opens Nov. 10, exactly nine months after Newkirk’s Feb. 10 surgery. He had to wait seven weeks for the surgery because he had also sprained his lateral collateral ligament. There was concern that would also need to be repaired. It healed, and the ACL surgery was done.
“When I woke up, I remember somebody trying to talk to me, but I was so out of it they said I’m going to give you like three more hours to sleep and then come back and try it again,’’ Newkirk said.
The pain, which he said was not really describable, was much worse after the surgery than after the injury.
“Only people that have been through surgery really know,’’ he said. “Every little thing was hurting. The doctor said it was because they had to get to my bone, go through tissue and stuff like that.’’
Newkirk’s older brother really did not take to basketball, but Shavar, who remembered being around 5 years old when he got his first exposure, loved it almost instantly and soaked up the knowledge his father had gleaned. Shavar loves it still and has every intention of being back on the court for the Hawks opener.
The pain was gone two months ago. He went from jogging to running a little, some shooting drills and some defensive slides, but no basketball.
“I like not playing,’’ he said. “It’s just making me more hungry.’’
He wears a big brace on that left knee that, according to SJU athletic trainer Bill Lukasiewicz, likely will stay in place at least until February, a year after surgery.
“He is right about where I thought he would be,’’ Lukasiewicz said. “He has had no setbacks, no delays. … I would think if things are going well by September, October, he’ll be pretty close to 90 to 100 percent. It’s tough to predict, but he’s done great. If it continues on that trajectory, I think he’ll be ready to go” to start the season.
Newkirk is confident that in two or three more months, he “will be back to full health.’’
A healthy Newkirk is a blur. Here he is against Oregon in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
In the “Unseen Hours’’ club, he constantly works on his quads, his knee, hamstrings. Leg presses, toe raises, whatever he can do to strengthen the muscles around that knee.
His biggest surprise was how much balance he lost.
“I couldn’t stand on my leg and touch my nose,’’ Newkirk said. “That was very difficult. The other day, I actually did a little bit of basketball, just forward motion. I only did like 10 minutes, but that 10 minutes felt like I was playing for two hours.’’
He is convinced, however, once he is given the all-clear for the all-go that he will quickly get into basketball shape.
“It’s hard not to do it [now] when you are surrounded by basketball all day,’’ Newkirk said. “It’s like, what’s one shot going to do?’’
However, he resists the temptation. His time, he knows, is coming soon enough.
“I’ve been thinking about how the crowd is going to react when I step on the court again,’’ Newkirk said. “When it happens, it happens. I’m in no rush. I know my team is getting better.’’