With his players trying to deal with teammate Josh Speidel’s catastrophic Feb. 1 auto accident and subsequent fight for life, Columbus North boys basketball coach Jason Speer was asked if they were emotionally and physically worn out as the playoffs approached.
Speer knew that his players were putting their academic and athletic responsibilities on the back burner to make trips to Indianapolis to see Speidel, who continues to battle back from severe head injuries at Select Specialty Hospital.
Getting rest never figured into the equation.
“Physical stress is nothing compared to the joy that Lisa and Dave Speidel gave to us when we would go to see Josh,” said Speer, who several times had to check his emotions so he could continue talking. “Spending time with Josh, seeing his progress, that meant so much to our kids. It meant a lot for them to look into his eyes and see that he knows they love him.
“To see his face, to see him fight …”
Numbers will show that the 2014-15 Bull Dogs finished the season 16-8 and were dispatched in the first round of the sectionals by host Bloomington South. But numbers meant little to Speer and his players as their season closed.
“I have learned so much from this team,” Speer said. “We showed up every day under dire circumstances and played hard. We did the best we could together.
“At first we were playing for Josh. Then we wanted to win for Josh. That was a transformation in itself. And competing was what Josh was all about. Our players left it all out there. It was inspiring.”
Speidel had broken North’s all-time scoring and rebounding records early in the year and the Bull Dogs seemed poised to make a run toward a state championship when Speidel was involved in a serious car accident on U.S. 31 near Taylorsville.
“At the beginning of the year, coach told us we were going to have challenges this season,” senior Trent Larson said. “We just didn’t know what those challenges were. We took it the best we could, and those challenges made us work harder.”
North was 14-3 when Speidel was injured. The Bull Dogs lost their next four games, then rebounded with wins against Bloomington North on senior night and at Seymour.
The Bull Dogs then fell to state-ranked Bloomington South in the sectional.
“It was tough,” senior Kooper Glick said. “Everyone in the state knows he was a Mr. Basketball candidate, and when a team loses a guy like that who is such a good leader, it’s going to make you worse. But I’m proud of the way we played, and I think he would be proud of how we did without him.”
“It’s very humbling to see how strong of a bond and a relationship that we have,” Speer said. “I think without that relationship piece in place, it could have went several directions. But it certainly was a situation where we showed a lot of strength and a lot of character.”
Not only did the Bull Dogs lose Speidel, they lost Larson, who had been their second-leading scorer at the time, for three games late in the season because of a knee injury.
“It was tough for me to sit on the bench without Josh,” Larson said. “I’m usually out there helping them, and I couldn’t.”
“Our basketball team and our parents, our assistant coaches and their families were just amazing,” Speer said. “I felt like that we banded together. We understood that our situation had changed with the injuries to Trent and to Josh. It basically transformed into a life lesson.”
Speer felt his team, which had been ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A for most of the season, was improving at the time of the injuries.
“I thought our chemistry was great, and we were getting better every day,” Speer said.
“(The season) definitely didn’t go as expected,” Glick said. “It was crazy, a lot of emotions. It’s not that we had a failure of a season. I think we were one of the best teams in the state. It just didn’t go as planned.”
With Speidel making tiny positive steps in terms of his physical recovery, North isn’t ready to look ahead at the future. However, when the team returns next season, only 6-7 sophomore Alex King returns from the starting lineup.
That would be in addition to junior Mitchell Kelley, who started in Speidel’s place at the end of the season.
“The past players and their parents have set the bar really high, and they’ve shown us how to do it,” Speer said of his team’s six consecutive winning seasons. “It will be up to us the off-season to see how we can match up.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Record: 16-8 (5-2 in Conference Indiana)
Best win: 71-68 against Bloomington North
Worst loss: 62-55 at Franklin
Starters lost: Josh Speidel, Kooper Glick, Trent Larson, Vince Grana
Starters returning: Alex King, Mitchell Kelley
Other key returners: Stephon Peters-Smith, Trey Vincent, Jaylen Flemmons, Nathan VanDeventer, J.D. Harris