LINCOLN — Almost seven months to the date of a massive knee injury that nearly cost Danville junior Tevin Smith his junior season, the 6-foot-4 forward not only returned to the court in a competitive contest, but he showed no ill effects.
Smith looked as good, if not even a little better, than he looked in the Vikings season-ending loss to Belleville West (95-83) on March 8 of this year.
The junior scored a game-high 29 points on 9-of-17 shooting and he pulled down a game-high nine rebounds in Danville’s 72-61 triumph over Champaign Centennial at the Lincoln/Eaton Thanksgiving Tournament.
“I was glad to be back playing with Tevin,’’ said junior teammate Nathanael Hoskins, who had 24 points in the victory. “We haven’t played together in a game since April.
“He looked like the normal Tevin and it looks like his shot got better.’’
Smith knocked down four 3-pointers and he was 7-of-9 at the free-throw line.
Amazing numbers for a player that admittedly wondered if he would be able to play this season after tearing the ACL and the meniscus in his left knee on April 25 during a live event for coaches just before the Nike EYBL Session 1 in Atlanta.
“When it happened, I wasn’t even thinking about this season,’’ said Smith, who has a couple offers from NCAA Division I programs. “I was only thinking about getting back for my junior year of AAU basketball. I didn’t think I was going to play.’’
Eventually, his attitude changed, but a number of people around high school and AAU basketball kept thinking that Smith couldn’t be ready for the Danville opener on Tuesday night.
“I know people doubted how was I going to be back and playing this soon,’’ Smith said. “It became my goal to prove them wrong.’’
So, how did he feel after playing a full 32 minutes?
“It felt really good. I haven’t felt like this in a long time,’’ he said. “Once you get to playing and the adrenaline gets going — you don’t even think about it.’’
Not even enough to know if he jumped off of one leg during the game against the Chargers, which according to Smith was one of the last hurdles to 100 percent recovery.
“That’s why I thought I was at 85 percent coming into the game,’’ he said. “I was still trying to get better at that this past week.
“I just trusted it. I’m pretty sure that I jumped off of one leg at some point during the game, but I really didn’t pay attention to it.’’
Danville’s first-year coach Durrell Robinson wasn’t surprised at all with Smith’s performance in his coaching debut.
“He is just a special kid,’’ said Robinson. “His work ethic just to get back to where he is at doesn’t surprise.
“And he is even better person off of the floor.’’
That was evident when asked what was his favorite part about Tuesday night.
“It was getting the win,’’ he said.
And that was admitting in doubt for most of the night as Centennial led by as much as 7 points with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
“This was our first game, so we were just trying to figure stuff out,’’ said Hoskins, who helped ignite Danville on a 31-14 run in the game’s final nine minutes.
The Vikings, who were the 2017 champions of the Lincoln/Eaton Thanksgiving Tournament, were back in action on Wednesday with a 6 p.m. contest against the Limestone Rockets. That game started after the Commercial-News deadline for today’s edition. For the final score and game details, check out www.commercial-news.com or there will be a full story in Friday’s edition of the paper.
Danville will conclude play in the Red Pool on Friday with a 6 p.m. game against Mahomet-Seymour.