April 4, 2008
steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
Athletes are hardwired into the importance of perseverance, told that the journey and sacrifice from long hours of preparation would lead to the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
To UC Santa Barbara junior Chris Devine, his battle to persevere had nothing to do with anything that happened on the court. His journey began on a surgical table...thousands of miles from the comforts of home in Eagle River, Alaska.
During his first year at UCSB, Devine was diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), a condition that results from a loss of blood supply to an area of bone beneath the surface of a joint. OCD is an extremely rare condition estimated to occur in six per 10,000 men and in three per 10,000 women younger than 50 years. OCD of the knee is the most common of these ailments and generally occurs in young males from the ages of 10-20.
The injury was serious enough to shelve Devine before he even donned the blue and gold for UCSB. Head coach Bob Williams thought it was possible that he might never see his young star on the court.
"When they went in for the surgery, they saw that the knee was in worse shape than they even anticipated. There was a real possibility he may never play again."
In Devine's case, the bone in essence had died and risked breaking off.
"They had to drill tiny holes in the bone to advocate more blood flow," said Devine. "That's what took so long for it to get better. It's not like a ligament where you just repair it...you just had to sit and wait for the blood to bring it back to life."
Patience is not exactly something athletes possess in excess, especially 18-year-olds who are eager to start their collegiate careers. Fortunately for everyone involved with the procedure, Devine is not your typical athlete.
A reserved young man, Devine never wavered from the belief that he would hit the floor with his fellow Gauchos.
"I definitely was going to come back. At the time I had just gotten here and hadn't played a game yet...it was important for me to get healthy and play."
Devine never developed a "woe is me" attitude. If anything he basically let it all play out and waited.
"I leaned on (head) Coach (Bob Williams) and my parents offered to come down to help, but I said I was okay. I mean it was a serious injury but I never really saw it as a big deal. It was never really too devastating for me...I was okay with it."
Rehabbing the injury was more strenuous on the training staff than it was on Devine. He approached his rehab with such zeal that the staff and his coaches had to tell him to scale it back numerous times.
"The doctors wanted him to keep off it and just be on crutches and that was the toughest time of all," said Williams. "Keeping him under control was also tough because he just wanted to get going. You had to remind him not to waste the previous 14 months of recovery just to get out there two months faster."
Chris Devine finally hit the court in a Gaucho uniform November 18, 2005 for a home game against San Francisco. There were a lot of anxious people in attendance but Devine eased those thoughts with a stunning 17-point, seven-rebound, six-assist effort. That was just the beginning of a campaign that saw him average 12.2 points, 5.9 boards and 29.4 minutes per game. He ended the season on the All-Big West second team and won the Big West Hustle Award.
Fast-forward three years and even the reserved Devine is impressed with how he was able to become such a solid player after missing two years due to injury.
"Oh yea I was surprised. I jumped into the league fresh after being hurt for two years. I was real excited about how I came back."
Even his head coach was impressed with his level of play upon his return.
"Overcoming those two years of injury isn't always positive," says Williams. "When you overcome those injuries, you usually aren't the same kind of player. Clearly that was not the case with Chris."
Devine received even more good news before the start of the season as he learned the NCAA had granted him a sixth year of eligibility, making the 2007-08 season his junior year all over again.
"I was so excited to be able to get the full experience of playing four years. I was worried I would get cut short, which would have been okay but I wasn't sure if I would reach my goals in that time. When they gave me the sixth year, I was just so excited."
It's all behind him now...the long hours of rehab, watching his teammates on the court...all of it just memories. The future is Devine's focus now and with it thoughts of how he will be remembered during his time at UC Santa Barbara.
"I want people to remember me with championships...so far it hasn't been possible. As far as personal records, I leave that to my teammates Al (Alex Harris) and Ivan (Elliott) while I run around and slam into people ha ha."
Devine also wants to be remembered as a guy who hopefully had a positive effect on his teammates...as a player who made them play just a little bit harder every time he was on the floor. To Williams he's much more than that.
"He's a competitor and warrior and gives you a little bit of everything on both ends. The real appreciation is to his parents for raising him and how he handled the adversity and how mature he was about it. He was determined to get back to full speed. He really showed how tough he is."
After claiming two All-Big West awards, recently passing 1,000 points and getting a chance to play four years, Devine's perseverance has indeed paid off.
"What Chris brings to the table now is what affects the team," says Williams. "His toughness, his work ethic, his willingness to be coached...more than anything it's the way he takes responsibility. From that standpoint he's definitely a leader in our program and the players look up to him."
His fellow Gauchos will also remember him for one more thing.
"They kid me about being older ALL the time."