The Daily Illini

Wheelchair hoops player Michael Mitchell returns from broken femur

By Thomas Polcyn

In Michael Mitchell’s first wheelchair basketball practice of the season, the Illini sophomore took a hard fall.

The tumble was hard enough to break his left femur.

And given the fact that the femur is the strongest bone in the bodyRB, Illinois head coach Matt Buchi was pretty rattled.

“I was over there freaking out about him breaking (his femur) and he just kind of looked at it like ‘whatever,’” Buchi said.

Buchi couldn’t believe how calm Mitchell was about the injury. But it wasn’t uncharted territory for the sophomore.

It wasn’t the first time he’d broken his femur. It wasn’t the second time, either.

He’d broken the upper half of his leg seven times.

“I was shocked when he told me. It’s pretty insane,” Buchi said.

“I had absolutely no idea.”

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Entering the season, Mitchell had high hopes. He was prepared to fulfill a big role on the team as one of the stronger forwards, but missed the team’s first four tournaments while recovering.

“I almost look at it and just think; ‘oh look I broke my femur again,’”  Mitchell said. “I’d consider myself an expert on it by now.”

The break was fairly severe — severe enough that doctors inserted a rod in Mitchell’s leg to help support the bone.

Mitchell said that his doctor recommended he stay away from school for the semester in order to focus on his rehab and to avoid further agitation of the bone from moving around campus.

Because of this, he was unable to finish his classes for the semester. Following the doctor’s orders, Mitchell returned to his home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he took the semester off and worked hard on rehabbing the muscle in his leg.

At home he tried to pick up some online classes, but it was too late in the year to register. Mitchell’s advisers said that he is still on track to graduate on time, a big goal for him.

“It was definitely weird not being in class and doing all of my work this past semester,” Mitchell said. “Graduating on time is really important to me so I’m glad it worked out, and I’m not going to be delayed at all in that process.”

During therapy, he mostly stayed away from basketball activity and focused on strengthening the muscle around the area where the break occurred.

Buchi said when Mitchell is healthy he brings a lot of valuable assets to the team.

“His rare combination of size and speed puts (Mitchell) at a big advantage against some of the slower forwards we play against,” Buchi said. “Not only is he very physically talented but he is also a great thinker of the game. He is such an intelligent kid and it shows when he’s playing out there.”

The Illini coach added that Mitchell still has a good chance to be an Academic All-American this season.

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Despite all of the adversity, Mitchell has taken the process very well and has made it an opportunity to better himself all around.

“It has certainly been tough but I’m doing my best to make the most of my situation,” Mitchell said. “Since the start of physical therapy I’ve tried to stay optimistic and my main goal was to come back stronger than I was before the injury.”

After months of hard work and rehabilitation, Mitchell was able to make his return to playing at the Auburn tournament. Buchi was really excited to have him back and said that he looked great all week in practice leading up to the team’s tournament.

Mitchell was able to get in one game at the tournament, playing 10 minutes against the University of Texas at Arlington. He scored two points and added three rebounds and an assist.

“It felt good to be back out there again,” Mitchell said. “Being able to play again against some other teams was a good measuring stick to see where I’m at in my recovery. I know I have some work to do but I feel good about where I’m at. My big thing once I got back out there was that I wanted to take a hard fall just to reassure myself that I’m 100 percent again.

“Once that happened I knew I was good. I don’t want to be playing scared.”

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@TPolc

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