It seemed like such a harmless play, a move Kamil Parzych has made thousands of times in his life. This time, however, there was no foul, just harm.
"I was driving to the basket and I felt my [left] knee give out," he said of the play he still can't get out of his mind. "At first, a trainer said it was a sprained knee and I'd be out two weeks. But then a doctor said it was a torn ACL. I started crying when he said that. It was the worst day of my life. I was devastated."
Parzych, a senior guard for Lindenhurst, was playing at the St. John's University summer basketball camp on June 11 when he switched hands and went in for a lefty layup that completely changed the direction of his basketball future.
Before that day, Parzych, a Newsday All-Long Island first-team selection as a junior, was being heavily recruited by numerous Division I colleges. "He had a bunch of D-I schools with legitimate interest," said Lindenhurst coach John Albano, who was watching that day when his star player crumpled to the court. "Robert Morris, Columbia, Colgate, Lafayette, Holy Cross. Others were calling, too.''
Not anymore. Interest has waned, but Parzych holds tightly to his dream of playing Division I basketball. "When the college coaches stopped calling,'' he said, "it just motivated me to work harder."
His fierce determination was evidenced by how quickly he was able to return from major knee surgery that usually keeps athletes out six to nine months. Thanks to an aggressive rehab program that emphasized running, bike riding, strength training, agility drills and jumping exercises, doctors cleared Parzych to return to the court Dec. 8 - a little more than five months after the July 1 surgery.
"The first three weeks after the surgery was the hardest part. No basketball activity. There was a lot of pain and the mental part was tough," said Parzych, who paused, looked up and said softly, "It's still tough."
The 6-4, 210-pound Parzych, once an explosive jumper who dunked frequently, jammed for the first time this season during warmups recently. He appears to be a step slower, perhaps because of the extra 20 pounds of muscle he has added.
"When I found out I couldn't do the things I used to do, it was very frustrating," said Parzych, who still has the Bulldogs on top in League II and is averaging 14.7 points per game, down about five points from last season. "The first week of practice, I was scared of contact and afraid to go to the basket."
That's Parzych's game. He has a very good outside shot, but what separated him from most other guards on Long Island was his strong and daring drives and the ability to finish with either hand in traffic. He was adept at finding teammates with kick-out passes, set up by his quick first step that allowed him to create defensive chaos.
But Parzych, who wears a state-of-the-art knee brace in his school color of dark green, has had a major impact and doesn't shy away from contact now.
"Forget the stats. We don't win without him," said Albano, citing recent games in which Parzych exceeded 20 points with a high number of assists.
One of those games came on Thursday against Whitman, a tough overtime loss in which Parzych scored 22 points, contributing a steal, three-pointer and game-tying layup that forced OT. His gritty performance prompted Whitman coach Tom Fitzgerald to call Parzych "a warrior."
A wounded warrior, as it turned out. Parzych tumbled to the court while making a spin move in the first half, aggravating the left knee problem. In Albano's words, he "played the second half on one leg."
He refuses to let himself sulk, however. He won't allow his coach or a reporter to bring up the notion of perhaps settling for Division II or Division III schools, or considering prep school to give his knee another year to get stronger.
"No, no," he said. "I know if I work hard, I'll be all the way back. It's all about determination. I'll play summer ball. I'll do whatever it takes. I know the colleges will start calling again."
A couple of college recruiters had planned to watch Parzych Saturdayagainst Central Islip, but he did not play because of Thursday's tweak and will see a doctor tomorrow. He knows it's all part of the process.
"For a while, when I couldn't play basketball, I had some of those 'why me' feelings. You're human," he said. "But not now. That's why I work so hard. I'm not giving up on a scholarship.
"I'm just not giving up."