By Tim Lima
---- — With resiliency and maturity, Newburyport senior Caleb Stott found his way back to the court this season after being sidelined last year with a back injury.
“I told Caleb last year how much he was growing as a person and how mature he was,” Newburyport head coach Tom L’Italien said. “He was a great teammate and made the best out of the situation.”
Back overuse contributed to small stress fractures on each side of Stott’s vertebrae and lower back. While originally not thinking much of the pain, the condition worsened and caused him to consult with doctors.
“They put me into a white hard plastic back brace that I wore for three months,” Stott said. “It still wasn’t healed after that so I had to keep it on for another three months. Finally it healed a little and they put me into a softer fabric back brace and it allowed some support for another three months.”
His condition caused him to miss his junior basketball season, something that he didn’t take lightly.
“I was devastated and unhappy,” he said. “I knew that I had to be supportive of my teammates and contribute to the team even though I couldn’t play. I just had to be there for support and encourage everyone and help the team as much as I could.”
He didn’t miss a practice.
“He was there every day,” L’Italien said. “Those are things that you can’t put into words but I think that was and is appreciated by the team. If at any point someone is going to feel bad about their playing time or a tough loss they look at him. He couldn’t do it on the court last year, but off the court he was there for us in so many ways.”
His dedication was recognized and rewarded at the team banquet at the conclusion of last year.
“I won the team award for someone who encouraged everyone and was supportive of the team,” Stott said. “Coach said a couple of nice words about me and my teammates thanked me.”
The maturity that Stott exhibited during his tough time is something that L’Italien enjoyed personally.
“I’ve known (Stott) since the fourth grade and that’s one of the reasons you enjoy coaching,” L’Italien said. “You can watch the kids grow into young men and watching him grow last year, I was really proud of him. For as difficult as it was not having him play, it was equally as rewarding to watch his response. It was tough but he pushed through it, and he is definitely helping us this year.”
Playing basketball his senior year is not something that Stott was anticipating, for he wasn’t certain he would be allowed. His back still often times bothered him and he was fearful of another year off the court. Then he got good news.
“I was pretty happy and surprised because I didn’t think it was all the way healed,” he said.
The green light was only the beginning for Stott who had to regain his shooting legs and get back into shape after so long away from physical activity.
“I did a lot of physical therapy; about six months of it,” he said. “I did a lot of water therapy which is going into the pool and doing different exercises they gave me. Once I didn’t feel as much pain I started to do some shooting drills and clinics just to get my legs underneath me.”
After such a long road, telling Stott that he would be playing off the bench was difficult for L’Italien. A sophomore and junior got the nod ahead of Stott, and he was considered the team’s sixth man, first off the bench. Stott’s response didn’t shock his coach.
“I told him we were starting a sophomore and a junior ahead of him,” L’Italien said. “His response was, ‘I will do whatever is best for the team, no problem.’ It was awesome. It goes back to how he grew as a person last year. This year he doesn’t take a practice or a play off. He plays with an urgency after missing a year.”
His urgency has contributed to a strong season from the Clippers this year. The team has benefited from Stott’s strong play including a team-high 12-point performance against Triton.
“He gives us solid on the ball defense,” L’Italien said. “He also gives us a lot of athleticism and a good jump shot. Those are three nice things we can go to off the bench.”
Though often admired for the way he made the most out of a tough situation, Stott’s focus never strays from the team.
“We are having a good season so far,” he said. “We have a really strong bond together and we have great coaching. Its all about the team chemistry and hopefully that will take us places.”