PISCATAWAY — The thought crossed Eugene Omoruyi’s mind as soon as he hit the floor at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois, that January night.
Eugene Omoruyi goes down mid-play after a hit on his knee, and it does not look good. Steve Pikiell immediately on the scene to comfort his sophomore glue guy: pic.twitter.com/wQTqUzTziQ— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) January 31, 2018
He wasn’t the only one.
Head coach Steve Pikiell didn’t give a timetable, but said Omoruyi would be out “for a while” with the “bad injury” in his first appearance in front of local media after the injury. Most, if not all of the fanbase saw it the same way — and with good reason.
The injury looked bad according to those in attendance, with many of the fans in attendance that day screaming as trainers popped Omoruyi’s knee back into place before taking him off the court.
So when Omoruyi returned to the floor just 11 days later and played 19 minutes against Nebraska, it caught almost everyone off guard.
Well, everyone except Omoruyi himself.
“The first two days, I couldn’t even step on (the injured leg),” he said. “The third day, after we kept doing rehab, it was the first day it felt like everything, it felt like I could make it. I was like ‘alright, all I have to do is focus.’”
An unranked prospect out of Canada with no reported offers until Pikiell extended one at the 11th hour, Omoruyi is no stranger to overcoming long odds. While most wrote off the rest of the season and looked forward to 2019, he approached his rehab the same way he did everything else in basketball.
Omoruyi worked with athletic trainer Richard Campbell daily to regain strength and mobility in his knee, more optimistic he can return to the floor by the day.
And just like he beat the odds to go from an unknown freshman forward to a vital piece in Pikiell’s rotation, Omoruyi crushed the odds of the typical six-week recovery period.
“I just have to thank Rich the trainer,” Omoruyi said. “We’ve been going through a lot of exercises to make my knee mobile because it’s been really stiff. After getting off, after recovering from the injury, he’s just been helping me through it, getting me on the court, getting me out there before practice, warming up the knee a little bit. It’s been good.”
Though the wait to return was relatively short, it certainly didn’t feel that way to Omoruyi. A fiery personality who Pikiell depends on for energy off the bench, the forward had to sit and watch helplessly as his team continued to slide deeper and deeper into a losing streak.
He missed just two games, but Omoruyi’s first game out was one he had been looking forward to for weeks.
“It was very hard (to watch from the bench), especially the Purdue game because I really wanted to play,” Omoruyi said. “The first game (an 82-51 loss in West Lafayette) I only played 11 minutes. I had a calendar in my room and I circled Purdue to get them back but I couldn’t play them. It was a lot to take in but I feel like God had this plan for me.”
Nonetheless, Omoruyi and his teammates looked ahead to the games where he was available to make a difference.
With fellow glue guy Mike Williams back in the rotation after a similarly rapid recovery from injury, Omoruyi and the Scarlet Knights had that chance Tuesday night when they hosted Northwestern.
Two weeks to the day he sustained the injury and a day before his 21st birthday, Omoruyi logged 39 minutes and contributed 8 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a key block at the end of regulation in his first start of the season as Rutgers snapped a seven-game losing skid with a come-from-behind 67-58 overtime win over the Wildcats.
“Tremendous,” Pikiell said of Omoruyi and Williams’ performance. “Forget about the numbers, they’re tough, they’re very good team defenders. Mike is a veteran and, on a team that doesn’t have a lot of veterans, Eugene is a veteran too. So, great to have them back. Inserted them in the lineup and thought he gave us tremendous energy and he really helped us in a lot of ways.”
Corey Sanders, the star of the night, was happy to have the pair and their enthusiasm to do the dirty work back as well. In return, he gave Omoruyi the birthday present he promised him.
“It’s great to have those guys back,” Sanders said. “They work hard, they’re great teammates, they work hard in practice, they’re going to give their all in the game, their energy so those are guys we need out there fighting with us.”
The win and statistics are great and all, but they serve simply as the cherry on top for Omoruyi. The real victory was getting back on the floor and playing basketball again in the first place.
“I’m really happy,” Omoruyi said. “I bring a lot of energy to practice. If you see me in practice, I’m really excited. I’m jumping around before practice. It’s been good.”