It was probably the most isolated I've ever felt as a basketball player.

I remember it was mid February of 2017, and we only had six games left before the ACC Tournament. We had been to the NCAA title game the year before, only to lose at the buzzer, and our team was hungry to take that last step toward a championship. That's when it happened.

During a practice before our game against N.C. State, I injured my right knee. I knew it wasn't good, but I didn't necessarily know how bad it was going to be until I got the prognosis...I needed surgery, meaning I was going to miss the rest of the season.

If my teammates were going to be playing for the NCAA Championship, it would be without me on the floor. I remember feeling like I was by myself in that moment, but my teammates refused to let me think I was alone.

Justin Jackson and Luke Maye, two teammates who were strong in their faith, were incredible during that time. Justin encouraged me to read the story of Job, which helped me realize I was hardly the only person that God had ever tested. Job believed in God, only to watch as he lost his children, his possessions, his property, and his health. And still Job would not curse God. If Job could still believe in God after all that, I definitely was going to keep my faith after a knee injury.

Luke prayed for me, and helped me see that my identity was not in being a basketball player. Luke never put pressure on himself to perform on the court, and never tried to overcompensate as a basketball player to prove people wrong. He was going out there letting the game come to him and playing freely because he identifies in Christ, and he knew that he was a child of God. Watching as Luke encouraged me really helped me grasp that God's love is never going to go anywhere, no matter how many games I sit out or how many shots I miss.

If I was going to be watching my teammates from the bench for the rest of the season, I was going to cheer as hard as I could.

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(Cover photo courtesy of Athletic Communications)

Thomas Hager