Rocky: An odds-defying journey from an LCL injury back to the Chicago hardwood

By John Alfes
Medill Reports

Seated senior point guard Rocky Viette extended his left leg on the baseline, reached for his foot and cracked a smile ahead of Lake View’s game against Marine Leadership Academy.

It was a welcoming sight for head coach Mike Davis. It was a relieving sight for senior guard Tyrek Warren. It was a familiar sight for the Wildcat faithful.

Rocky Viette (second from left) stretches and smiles before a conference game against Marine Leadership Academy on Jan. 23. (John Alfes/Medill)

“Our season would have been a lot more different had he not gotten hurt” in fall. Davis said. “That’s something we struggled with earlier in the year – our point guard position – because I would have both my backup point guards on the court at the same time.”

“It’s more relieving,” Warren said. “At first, point guard was his role, but then, once he got injured, I had to step up my game. I had to play his role.”

“If we get a lot of fans, they’re going to be really happy to see him play in his first home game since last season,” Davis said.

Rocky Viette missed the first 16 games of the 2018-19 season for the Lake View High School men’s basketball team. (John Alfes/Medill)

Viette, a vocal leader for Lake View, suffered a left LCL injury playing football in the fall. Since then, he has trekked on an arduous, four-month journey from a pool creating water resistance to countless sessions of physical therapy to agonizing days on the sidelines rather than the court.

But the Marine Leadership Academy game welcomed his return to the home court. He had played two away games in the weekend prior to that.

“I just never really thought I would go through an injury like this,” Viette said. “We all come to a point in life where we face obstacles or some type of adversity. And it’s on you for how you react to it. What are you going to do about it?”

There was still a spot for Viette on the bench throughout his team’s first 16 games. He could participate in non-contact shooting drills, but suited up in school clothes rather than a uniform once gameday rolled around.

A formula of hard work, determination and grit fueled Viette’s odds-defying return to basketball.

Head coach Mike Davis slated Rocky Viette to be the Wildcats’ starting point guard before a left LCL injury derailed the start of his senior year. (John Alfes/Medill)

“I really wish that I was actually playing all those games I missed,” Viette said. “That was obviously one of my biggest bumps on the road and somehow, someway I had to go through it and fight through it. Just keep going through the process and an injury like that is really mental. Just keeping my head up.”

It took four months and a week for Viette to step foot on the Chicago hardwood again. Medical staff cleared Viette for game activity on Jan. 18 before Davis inserted him into the rotation against Deerfield High School on Jan. 19.

“I was in his shoes before where I fractured my foot and I had to sit out for a long time,” said Davis, who played at John A. Logan College and the University of Illinois Springfield. “It’s just like, ‘Man, is this depression? What is this?’”

The trials and tribulations Davis experienced through his foot injury helped him make a final decision on Viette, who was champing at the bit to play the sport he loved again.

“It’s just like, ‘Does the coach trust me anymore because I’m not the same player anymore?’” Davis said. “So, I didn’t want Rocky to feel that way with me, the way that I felt with my coach in college. So, the day after he was cleared, I said, ‘You know what? Get in the game. Let’s see what you got.’”

Viette would make an immediate impact, going coast-to-coast before floating the ball over a 6-foot-10 defender and into the waiting arms of the net. Two days later, he sunk a pair of three-pointers from the corner to seal a 68-61 overtime victory over Wauconda High School.

Seniors Rocky Viette (right, in white) and David Thomas (left, in white) discuss strategy during their first home game together in nearly a year. (John Alfes/Medill)

“He brought out a lot of energy like he always does,” said junior guard Kevin Delaney, who scored 30 points in the recent win. “He was just the type of guy to come on the court with a lot of energy, sacrificing his body.”

When Viette toed the scarlet red logo at the center of Lake View’s court on Jan. 23 against Marine Leadership Academy — a feverish home crowd roared in anticipation.

“I just told him, ‘Just make sure that you go out there and give it your all as if it’s the first game of the season,’” Davis said. “Try to erase the past.

“His story’s been pretty incredible.”

Four months and a week are now gone and in the rearview mirror.

Rocky Viette’s eyes glance forward, as the final games of his high school basketball career — the moments he will cherish the rest of his life — still await him in the coming weeks.

“It’s a blessing. I got my opportunity to still play,” Viette said. “Obviously, my high school career is not over.”

Photo at top: Senior Rocky Viette hurls an overhead pass during the first half of a home victory. Head coach Mike Davis (center left) watches in the distance.(John Alfes/Medill)