C.J. Artus never imagined his senior season would have ended up the way it did.
Following his 2011-12 junior campaign that saw him average 13 points per game, Artus probably envisioned winning some sort of scoring award this winter. Well, he did indeed pick up hardware at the WMass Basketball Banquet just more than a week ago, but it wasn’t for any scoring awards. No, Artus averaged only around five points per game this season, but that may be even more remarkable than what he did as a junior. In fact, it was so good it earned him the Koczalka Award, which is given to one player in western Mass. who has overcome adversity to continue playing basketball.
Coming into this season Artus was primed to be one of the best players in the area. He had already been named a Hampshire League all-star and as a junior was among the top scorers in Franklin County. So he was ready for what should have been a monster year.
But life can sometimes be funny in a cruel way.
It happened over Father’s Day weekend last June. Artus was in Sacco, Maine, playing in a basketball tournament with his EDGE Basketball AAU team. One second, Artus was leaping to try and save a ball from going out of bounds. Then, the next thing he knew, he felt pops in both knees and the sense of shock you’d expect to feel when tearing two ACLs and a pair of cartilages in the right knee as well.
Two weeks later he had reconstructive surgery to repair both knees. For two weeks, Artus needed to use a walker to get around, and for four more weeks he was forced to use crutches. That left him nearly immobile for the whole summer and meant that Artus would not be able to play soccer for the Panthers during the fall. While Artus was bummed out that there would be no soccer, he was determined to be ready for basketball and told Pioneer coach Dave Hastings so.
“It would have been easy for him to mail it in, but from the day he had his operation, he said, ‘Don’t worry coach, I’ll be back,’” Hastings recalled.
Artus said that immediately after enduring surgery on June 29, he began physical therapy and, when able to walk again, started working with personal trainer Noah Harrison at the Body Shoppe in Greenfield, who he continued working with through the winter and into this spring.
“Getting all the muscle-strength back was the toughest part,” he recalled. “Besides going to work with Noah two or three times a week, I was pretty much at the Body Shoppe every day working out.”
When basketball season finally came around, Artus was still not able to compete, although he did attend practice every day to support his teammates. Finally, on Jan. 14, Artus made his return to the court in a game against Mohawk and his first shot since injuring both his knees was a successful 3-pointer. The played who dropped that shot may have looked like the smooth basketball players that local people had watched at the varsity level since a freshman, but what was going on inside his head that night was anything but good-old-days mentality.
“I was scared out of my mind that first game,” he said. “I was playing with braces on both my knees and had to learn to run with those on. The first few games, I was very timid but got more confidence by the end of the season.”
The season did not go as Artus would have liked. The injury did take a toll on his game and he was nowhere near the player he had formerly been. His dream of playing in the postseason was also dashed, as the Panthers finished 8-12 and missed qualifying by two wins. Despite that, Hastings said his star player never let it get him down and he knows in his heart that had C.J. been healthy, things would have been different.
“C.J. is a two- to five-win difference for us,” Hastings said. “We lost our leading scorer and leading rebounder. That would not be easy for any team. But I don’t think I ever saw him getting down.”
In fact, Artus said the injury has helped inspire him. Artus will attend Westfield State University in the fall, a school he would have considered playing basketball for prior to the injury. While that is no longer an option, he will study to become an athletic trainer, a job he wanted to do prior to the injury, but something he has even more interest in after dealing with the setback.
As for basketball, Artus said he is not even close to being done with the sport. In fact, this June he is considering heading back to Sacco to compete in the same tournament that took away much of his senior season.
“Playing on the same court would definitely help me overcome the injury,” he said. “To say I made it back one year later would be great.”
And Artus said he also may get into coaching, whether it be for the EDGE program, or somewhere else.
“I definitely want to stay around basketball,” he said.
Talk about the perfect example of someone who has not only overcome adversity, but spit in its face.
Artus was not the only Pioneer player to receive an award at the banquet. Teammate Brad Hastings was also one of seven players to earn the Wise Award for Sportsmanship. Greenfield senior Tyler Miller also picked up the award.
Hastings was nominated after his father and Pioneer coach Dave Hastings received a letter from a Frontier fan this season. Following a rather physical battle against the Red Hawks in South Deerfield, Dave Hastings was approached by Ted Cycz, a man he had never met before. Initially thinking it was going to be one of those far-too-common altercations between an opposing parent and a coach, Hastings braced himself for the worst. To his surprise, it was the exact opposite. Cycz said he was impressed with the sportsmanship exhibited by No. 3, who just happened to be Brad. It caught the coach off-guard, as did the letter Cycz personally wrote later addressed to Hastings, reemphasizing the point. The hand-written letter was full of praise every parent would love to hear.
“It was absolutely incredible as a parent to have that said,” Dave Hastings said. “I’ve always emphasized to every team that sportsmanship is very important, and when it’s noticed by someone else, that’s when you really know you’re hitting the mark.
“I think what makes Brad stand out is that he goes out of his way. We have a lot of guys who do that, and that’s why we won the sportsmanship award as a team this season. You can still be a hard-playing player and show sportsmanship. It’s not a sign of weakness.”
Cycz may have summed it up best in his closing statement in the letter.
“I would like to congratulate you, your team, your school and your son for having a winning season. This season is not reflected by any scoreboard, scorebook or league standings, but in fact, the winning season that is truly reflected in your hearts.”
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is email@example.com.