They’re the five most precious points Highland Park’s Brandon Rieger will ever score.
The senior guard’s modest offensive output against Glenbrook North on Dec. 10 wasn’t instrumental in a win. In fact, it came well after the outcome had been decided.
But it officially ended Rieger’s arduous six-month climb back after he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee during a summer showcase game at Ridgewood in June.
“I felt a lot of adrenaline and every type of emotion,” Rieger said. “After the injury, I was completely bummed out and was worried that my senior year was going to be completely ruined.”
It wasn’t. But Rieger’s injury, and the subsequent surgery on June 23, created a very different narrative for his final season of basketball. After earning valuable minutes off the bench as a junior, he was poised to take on a leading role. Instead, Rieger faced a recovery that his doctor told him could last anywhere from six months to a year.
Rieger boldly circled the low end of that time frame on his calendar. But he was on crutches for weeks.
“I felt sorry for myself for a good while,” he said. “Instead of working toward getting back or doing anything, I was stuck lying around my house.”
Fortunately for Rieger, he had more than a steely resolve. He also had a strong support system.
“We knew he was miserable, so we would go over to his house just about every night and hang out in his room,” senior guard Sam Rohn said. “It’s crazy what he’s been through. But through the whole process, he kept saying all he wanted was to be back out on the court.”
Even after Rieger stopped using crutches, it was difficult for him to watch his teammates go through conditioning workouts in the fall. But he started to see progress in his daily physical therapy sessions, which came during a free period in his class schedule. He began running on a treadmill without a limp, and defensive slide drills showed a return to his previous agility levels.
“My mentality was that there was always something to be positive about,” Rieger said. “There were more and more days when I felt like my normal self.”
Rieger’s normal self didn’t allow him to skip a single minute of time with the team, whether he could participate or not. That commitment is one reason Rieger is held in such high esteem within Highland Park’s program. That’s also why his injury was such a blow to the Giants (4-12).
“He’s the heartbeat of our team, so to see him out there, it’s a testament to his work ethic, his perseverance and, most of all, his toughness,” Highland Park coach Ross Deutsch said. “He may not be getting the minutes he would like, but we’re easing him in. His success will occur in a slow cooker, not a microwave.”
Less focused on his knee these days, Rieger can focus more on basketball. He’s back providing the type of energy that can be contagious and also is proving, in limited minutes, that his overall game has a lot of depth.
In a loss to Downers Grove South on Dec. 28, Rieger had four points, two rebounds, two steals and two assists.
“I’m still sore some days, but some days I feel like I could play the whole game,” he said. “But I’m committed to doing anything I can to help my team.”
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.