Slow motion: Myles Johnson diligently works his way back from a traumatic injury
February 13, 2020
One second, junior varsity basketball player Myles Johnson was flying through the air for a dunk in an increasingly-physical league matchup against Niles high school. The next second, he was on the ground with a compound fracture of his right leg.
While Johnson had played for the Huskies the previous two seasons, this year was different. “Myles was, to me, was experiencing one of the best moments of his life. He advanced from the JV basketball level on both the PNMBB team and his Camp Darryl AAU team to Varsity in the same season, and rounded off that season by winning a championship with his Portage Northern Men’s BB team at Grand Valley State University,” shares his mother, Deirdre Nieves. “He began getting invites to college-level camps, and he felt the upcoming season would be his break out year.”
Basketball wasn’t the only way Johnson was positioning himself for success, either. “I was really focusing on my grades first,” he explained. “I was even on the honor roll for the first quarter.” His mother, Deirdre Nieves, noticed his hard work: “He would spend many late nights working hard to keep his grades at an honor status,” she shared.
Johnson had also practiced more diligently than ever before. “I practiced all summer just preparing for the season,” he said. “I was really dedicated. For the month of August, I think there were 3 total days I wasn’t in the gym.” His commitment was not lost on his coach, Ben Neal. “In 25 years as a coach, I’ve never had a kid work harder in the offseason,” he shares. “He would text me and we would get in the gym as often as we could.” These extra practice sessions would be one on one or with teammate senior Jeff Wilson. “We played travel together, so we built a bond around a common goal,” explains Wilson. “We wanted to be successful, play at the next level, have a good season. We knew what it took to get there.”
Stopping the clock
The matchup against Niles was close and physical when Johnson was injured early in the game. “He was fouled 3 or 4 times with no call and was frustrated,” Neal recalls. “I told him he was going to have to take it to the basket harder.”
Johnson did take it to the basket harder, coming up with a big dunk attempt but then landing awkwardly on the way down. “I thought he just rolled his ankle,” Neal says.
The ball went back the other way and the game wasn’t even stopped until a foul was called on the other end of the court. “That’s when I realized he was still down there,” Neal remembers. “I went out to him and he was said, “Why me? Coach, I’m done.”
Neal noticed blood on the floor, but the trainer was there and had covered Johnson’s leg with a towel. “I thought he was cut,” Neal says. “I asked the trainer, did he roll his ankle? And he just looked at me and said, no Coach, he has a compound fracture. By that time, his mom was with us, and [TJ] Tyus was praying over him.”
The moment happened equally as slowly for Johnson. “The ball went the other way down the floor, so I looked down that way to watch,” he remembers. “I thought about getting up, and I couldn’t. That was when I looked down at my leg did a double take. I couldn’t believe it, because I couldn’t feel anything other than that I couldn’t move.”
Nieves was in the stands watching the game. “Any time I have to relive this exact moment I still get emotional,” she shares. “I do recall Myles and I making eye contact, and him shaking his head back and forth as to say no and I knew it wasn’t good. My heart dropped. He started pounding the floor and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Someone asked if I was his mom and that’s when I assumed it was serious.”
When Johnson saw his leg, he knew how significant his injury was. “When I first saw it, I just put my head back down I was just thinking that it was over,” he says. “Then the trainer came and put a towel over it, and that was strange. Even though it was small, that towel felt like the heaviest thing.”
By that time, Nieves was already with him on the court. “When I made it on the court, there was a lot of blood and someone had a towel up so that I couldn’t see his leg, but I was more focused on Myles at the moment. He seemed to be in shock and kept saying, ‘Mama it’s over, my career is over.’”
Leading up to Johnson’s injury, the game was a fast-paced and intense, but the sobering event brought perspective to both teams. “The team was visibly shaken,” Neal says. “Their hearts and minds were with Myles.” The Huskies went down 9 immediately before coming back for a late lead and ultimately losing the game 49-50.
“It was heartbreaking, honestly,” recalls Wilson, shaking his head. “To see his season taken from him instantly, for him not to be able to show how hard he worked.”
While the Huskies played and prayed for their teammate, Johnson was on the way to South Bend, Indiana, which was the location of the nearest facility that could handle the severity of his injury. There, he had surgery to repair his fractured leg.
Johnson had the support not just of his teammates, but of his entire school and the West Michigan community, who supported him either by visiting him in Indiana or sending him positive vibes on social media.
Johnson’s road to recovery has been difficult, but he has stayed the course with determination. “He’s continued to come to practice and to games,” Neal says. “It’s obvious that he struggles with not being able to play the game he loves, but he’s grown up a lot through this experience.”
Once he was able to return to school, he did so on a scooter, and then progressed his way to crutches, and ultimately to a boot. Currently, he is able to shoot free throws at practice. “He is very resilient,” Nieves beams. “Every step is a milestone, as he has to teach himself to walk again. It hasn’t been easy emotionally, but physically he has been shocking and amazing everyone. His physical therapist makes it their job to challenge him during each visit. He cried when he took his first full steps on his own without the boot – I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Johnson is optimistic about his healing process. “As time started going on, everything started to get easier,” he says. “At physical therapy, they push me really hard, and it’s tough. I fully accept all the hard work though because I want to get back. I’m just thinking about recovery. Just thinking about getting better for my team, for myself. I don’t let myself get down about it anymore and I plan on, when I’m healthy, forgetting I was ever injured.”
Johnson’s immediate goals include playing for his AAU team in the spring and then continuing to play basketball in college. “Gonzaga is my dream school, but I will play anywhere,” he shares. “I just want to keep the game in my life.”
He still has the strong support system that he had after surgery. “It was tough on my mom, but she helped me through everything. She’s starting to feel better now that I can do a lot of stuff on my own, but it’s hard on her, I can tell. She’s strong. She stays strong for me. And the rest of my family, they’re just trying to keep positive and be there for me,” Johnson affirms. “After he was hurt, we talked about how he could deal with it, grind through it, and be better because of it,” Neal says. “With discipline and toughness, that will happen.” Wilson agrees: “He’s going to be a different player, a better player, when he comes back.”
Myles and his family would like to extend a sincere thank you to:
Dr. Post, the staff at South Bend Memorial and EMTs
Dr. Roberts, Bronson Hospital
Ben and Dan and Bronson Rehabilitation
Coach Neal, coaches and PNMBB team
Niles Basket Ball teams and athletic staff those on hand that helped Myles that night
Coach Darryl and Camp Darryl teammates
Portage Northern High School and the other teams that reached out
All of the friends, loved ones and countless others who have reached out to Myles during this time.