By Matt Jenkins
---- — The odds of winning a third straight state basketball title were already stacked against the Danvers High boys for the 2013-14 season.
Then, over the summer, the three-peat became even more of a long shot.
On July 30 during a summer league game, Danvers’ only returning starter — junior guard Vinny Clifford — changed direction just like he has so many other times on a basketball court. This time was different. He felt immediate pain in his right knee and in his mind went to the worst possible place for a basketball player.
“Not the ACL!”
“It was my first thought, but I hoped it wasn’t,” said Clifford, a long-range shooting specialist who helped the Falcons win their second consecutive Division 3 state basketball title this past March. He will now miss the entire 2013-14 high school basketball season.
Clifford’s fear ended up being true — he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would require surgery.
Now, more than two weeks after having that surgery, Clifford is looking forward to recovery.
“It’s not like agonizing pain (when it happens). After 10 minutes you start feeling like it’s a sprain,” the 16-year-old Clifford said. “They said (surgery) went great. I’ll be going back to physical therapy and doing that three times a week. They said it will be 6-8 months (recovery), depending on how hard you work.”
Clifford is going through physical therapy at Bay State Physical Therapy in Beverly and intends to put the extra work in at home. He hopes to get back on the court in the spring.
“My approach is to just work hard and come back better than I was before. At least it didn’t happen next year. I’ll be there to help my (Danvers) teammates in the fall and in season and get back as soon as I can,” Clifford said.
“The plan (to return) would probably be next spring, before I go to nationals for AAU.”
Even though the odds of capturing another state title this season are not great for Danvers, which has moved up to Division 2, Clifford remains confident in his teammates.
“I think they’ve still got a good chance,” Clifford said. “Mark McCarthy is back and Peter Merry has gotten a lot better. We’ll get help from sophomores, too, and Kieran (Beck) will be a good leader. We will be fine.”