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Pike player almost all the way back after losing fingertips

The money usually amounted to about $100 to $125 a week. When it came time to spend it, basketball shoes were priority No. 1 for the budding Division I point guard.

On Oct. 4, Nick was in a bit of a rush. He’d been making the rounds that week, mowing each yard for a final time as the late summer faded into the fall. Nate Thomas wasn’t one of his usual customers. But his yard was badly in need of a cut, and Nick said he’d get it done.

As he wheeled his mower around to the backyard, Nick’s mind wasn’t completely on the task. He couldn’t wait to get home and play his new X-Box video game, NBA 2K12.

The grass was long and damp. Every few feet, the mower blade would stop and cause the engine to die.

Finally, Nick reached down with his right hand to pull at a clump of cut grass that clogged the chute. The blade had stopped. Nick didn’t realize that his left hand remained wrapped around the safety bar, which kept the engine engaged. As he tugged, the blade was freed. Nick’s fingers were too far underneath the mower. He pulled away, then looked down at his shooting hand. He screamed.

On a missionShout to eryone who came nd seen me in the hospital nd ppl who tweeted gud things bout me THANK YOU SO MUCH it means a lot— tweet from Nick Rogers, @iAm_nick10, Oct. 8, 2011

Sophomore year had been shaping up to be a big one for Nick. Pike, as usual, was loaded with guards, including junior Zavier Turner entrenched at point guard. But Nick remained hopeful of not only earning a varsity spot but also playing significant minutes.

It wasn’t just a goal; it was a mission. Three days a week, he’d get up at 5 a.m. to push himself through workouts before school.

“Nick has a great attitude about life in general,” Pike coach Bill Zych said. “But he has a passion for the game of basketball.”

College coaches were starting to take notice. Michigan State had watched him Oct. 4. Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Wright State also were among schools that had shown initial interest.

Coaches liked the total package: a top-notch student, a leader on and off the court and his ability as a point guard.

“He has a savvy about the game that is hard to find,” Zych said.

“I was scared” Don’t sleep on me. Imma shock the world — @iAm_nick10, Oct. 19, 2011

Nick’s scream cut through the quiet neighborhood. The blade had sliced the middle, ring and pinkie fingers on his right hand. The middle finger was cut just above the knuckle, the ring and pinkie fingers just below the fingernail.

The fingers weren’t completely gone, but as Nick would later say, “they were hanging on by skin and tendons.”

“It hurt so bad it almost didn’t hurt at all,” he said. “My hand just went numb. I was scared.”

Nick raced across the cul-de-sac back to his house. His parents, Felix and Adrena, were a few blocks away at SportZone, getting in a late afternoon workout. Several neighbors heard the scream and rushed to his aid while another neighbor, Kay Henry, dialed 911.

Nick was in tears when his parents arrived, and he was rushed into an ambulance. When he saw his dad, a former player at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, Nick asked him: “How am I going to be able to play basketball?”

Future uncertain

Eyes already turnin toward my hand its frustrating — @iAm_nick10, Nov. 17, 2011

The first surgery lasted more than 10 hours. Kevin Knox, a plastic surgeon at St. Vincent Health, reattached all three fingers but warned Felix Rogers that his son’s basketball-playing future was in question.

“I told him that I didn’t know how well he would be able to play basketball again,” Knox said. “It was difficult to predict at that point.”

The surgery was a success, at least at first. Nick was released from the hospital Oct. 11 and returned to school Oct. 17. About a week later, he noticed that the part of his middle finger that was reattached was turning a darker color than the rest of his finger.

“My finger was dying,” he said. “The (doctors) were poking it, trying to get blood from it, but nothing came out.”

There was a second surgery to remove the portion of the middle finger that had been reattached, and then a third surgery to remove the tips of the ring and pinkie fingers, which had become infected.

Nick’s hope that his fingers would ever look “normal” again was gone.

“He was pretty down about it,” said Zack Long, a close friend and classmate on the Pike junior varsity team. “Being his friend, I just tried to help him through it and encourage him to get back in the gym every day.”

Back on the court

2 weeks nd I’m back play the sport I love #basketball — @iAm_nick10, Nov. 29, 2011

Nick was back in the gym almost immediately after the third surgery, even though he could use only his left hand. His ball-handling with his left, which had always been good, improved dramatically. He even taught himself to shoot jump shots with his left hand.

“He spent countless hours on that left hand,” his father said with a laugh. “In reality, it’s made him a better player because he can rely on his left so much now.”

On Dec. 12, Nick was officially cleared to play basketball again. He joined the Pike junior varsity team and played in his first game a month later. Through six games, he is averaging 8.5 points and 3.0 assists.

There are things he can’t do as well as before, at least not yet. The fingertips are a lifeline for a point guard, and Nick sometimes forgets three on his dominant hand are missing.

In a recent practice, he attempted a quick crossover from left to right, but the ball whisked off his right hand and out of bounds.

“I have to pound the ball harder with my left hand,” he said, “to make sure it comes up to my (right) palm. I’m still working on that.”

“My story”

Man I cant wait for the game tonight. Im ready to hoop — @iAm_nick10, Jan. 27, 2012

Although those around him preach patience, Nick cuts himself little slack. He classified a recent performance at Carmel as “a bad game.”

“As hard as I’ve been working out, I can’t have any excuses,” he said. “There are none.”

Knox, however, attended the same game and was blown away by Nick’s progress.

“You would have never known anything had happened to him,” Knox said of Nick, who wears tape on the ends of his fingers. “More than anything, I think that speaks to the type of person he is. It’s motivated him even more.”

Zych, too, has been impressed. But the coach also knows it will take time for Nick to get completely comfortable playing with three damaged fingers. Zych hasn’t noticed much difference in Nick’s play since returning, other than making adjustments to his ball-handling.

“There are some new things he has to do now, so I think the biggest thing this year is the mental side,” Zych said. “You don’t want him to get discouraged, and I didn’t plan on being very critical of him this basketball season no matter what. He’s still a little bit back from where he was, but there’s no question he’s made it back faster than anybody thought he would.”

Although almost everyone at Pike has been supportive, Nick has been subjected at times to the cruelty of teenagers. Two students asked him, “What were you thinking?”

“Why would you ask me that?” he said. “A lot of people ask to see my fingers. I’m not really comfortable with that, but I’ll answer their questions about what happened.”

Nick would undo it if he could. He should have been paying closer attention that day instead of thinking about the new video game. But it’s also part of who he is now.

And he is comfortable with that.

“When I watch ESPN Classic or other shows, these other players always have stories,” he said. “This can be my story. If I work hard enough — and I will — I can still get to where I want to go.”

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