Taylor Montero holds off a defender during practice. Montero returned from a torn ACL in 2011 and is averaging 13.7 minutes per game for the Tommies. (Eden Checkol/TommieMedia)
After a serious high school injury, freshman Taylor Montero had to abandon his Division I dreams, but now he said he’s proud to play on the No. 1-ranked St. Thomas basketball team.
Montero missed his entire senior year of high school with an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee during his last summer league game.
Now, having overcome the knee injury, Montero has earned himself a spot in the Tommies’ rotation. Coach John Tauer said as a freshman, assisting the top-ranked Tommies is also a large feat.
“His contributions go far beyond statistics,” Tauer said. “For a freshman, he’s playing almost 15 minutes a game on a team that’s having a lot of success, and that’s rare.”
Although Montero hoped his injury was minor, he knew it wasn’t. He had to prepare himself for a long journey back to the court.
“A lot of people are 50-50 on (returning from) ACL injuries, but mine hurt,” Montero said.
Immediately after his injury, Montero had a motivating moment while waiting in the emergency room.
“There was a guy coming out, and he was in a wheelchair … he didn’t have any legs,” Montero said. “That instantly hit me. It was like, ‘as bad as my knee is, I’m still gonna be able to walk again.’”
Montero did move on and used his newfound free time to become more active in his community.
“I volunteered more at my school,” Montero said. “There was a weekend where kids with disabilities came to my high school, and we just hung out all day. That was really fun.”
But while he was improving off the court, Montero had to rehabilitate his knee to get back on the court.
“(Rehab) was a lot of work,” Montero said. “It was like learning how to walk again.”
After the injury, Montero had lost so much range of motion that he couldn’t pedal on a stationary bike. Both his high-school trainer and his doctors devised a plan to get Montero’s knee healthy again, but it wasn’t easy.
The physical therapy process took several months. Uncertainty about his return to basketball led Division I schools to withhold their would-be offers had Montero not been injured.
“He was being recruited by a lot of scholarship schools,” Tauer said.
Montero’s teammates echoed the sentiment.
“It sounds crazy, but if he never would have gotten injured in high school, there’s no way we would have got him because he’s definitely not a Division III basketball player,” center Tommy Hannon said. “The injury was really unfortunate, but when I found out he was coming here, I was pretty ecstatic.”
Montero and freshman Cortez Tillman have been playing on the same basketball teams since they were in eighth grade. They were teammates at Cretin-Derham Hall and are now playing on St. Thomas’ varsity team together.
Even though Montero had to take a break from basketball, the injury helped his game in some ways, Tillman said.
“Right when he got back, he couldn’t really move that well, so he was pretty much a spot-up shooter,” Tillman said. “Now he can shoot a lot better.”
Montero may not be the leader in any major statistical categories, but his coaches and teammates know that his game is much more than just numbers.
“He doesn’t mess up,” Hannon said. “He does everything well. He’s going to be a player who has a very successful career here if he keeps working hard and stays injury-free.”
Montero said while he feels 100 percent, he still thinks he can be more agile and improve his lateral movement and footwork; all things he said he plans to do this summer.
However, right now, Montero is focused on a team goal: cutting down the nets in Salem, Va.
“We have one goal and that’s to win a national championship,” Montero said. “You can’t do that with just one person.”
Some say everything happens for a reason and looking back, that just might be the case with Montero.
“I feel great just being (at St. Thomas),” Montero said. “I feel like everything is falling into place … like I’m accepted here. I love my teammates and coaches. We’re No. 1 in the nation and going to the playoffs. It’s like a dream come true.”
Trevor Walstrom can be reached at email@example.com.