Chad Copeland’s college basketball career was comparable to lining a kid up against a wall and measuring them to see their growth, but Copeland wasn’t making progress, he was digressing. And that just wasn’t like him.
“You don’t notice it because you’re with them everyday. He wasn’t the same guy, it was like night and day,” said head basketball coach Paul Culpo. “It used to be that teams couldn’t stop him. I popped in a tape of him to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.”
But there was a reason.
The 6’6, 220-pound senior forward was playing basketball with a 22-centimeter in diameter tumor in the back of his knee, a golf ball-sized cyst called Chondroblastomas. Professor and Health Science Coordinator Peter Kimmel explained the disease as, “a rare tumor in cartilage near the end of long bones in young patients. Pain is the most common symptom and they are found in men twice as often as they are found in women,” he said.
Copeland made joke of it saying it’s found in guys like him: “tall lanky and goofy.” But Copeland is handling the news better than his mom, Christine Copeland.
“I was concerned when he was playing because I have watched him play basketball for 13 years and I knew he was not playing to his potential. Something was wrong. I could see that he was frustrated as well,” she said.
Copeland knew too.
“I couldn’t run or jump or anything during games … I was just fighting through it, but it hurt a lot, this year it just killed me,” he said.
Copeland had been playing with this cyst for nearly two years. Most people believed he had a torn meniscus, but Culpo had his own theory. He explained how when Copeland showed up as a freshman, he couldn’t do a left-handed layup properly because when you go up for the layup, you tuck in your left leg in, which was something Copeland wasn’t capable of.
Senior forward and friend Casey McGraw admitted the team didn’t think it was anything serious at first. He explained that they encouraged him to play through the pain like a lot of other players do, but they were all later shocked by the bizarre diagnosis.
“We found out he had a potentially cancerous cyst in his knee just before our first practice after Christmas, so we kind of got blind-sided with news that we lost a key player for the rest of the season, but more importantly that one of our brothers is going through something much bigger than basketball,” said McGraw.
Copeland is lucky his coach made him go for MRI. He explained that it could be cancerous if ignored, which is why they have to remove it. The surgery is painful and the cyst is attached to his meniscus and going into his bone.
The procedure will involve digging bone out of the back of knee and taking bone out of hip and putting it in his knee.
He nonchalantly said he isn’t overly concerned about the surgery, but his mom is.
“Yeah she’s probably nervous but she’s nervous about everything,” he said laughing.
All Copeland is worried about is his future playing basketball. He took a medical redshirt year allowing him to come back next year and play a fifth year while taking graduate classes.
“If I couldn’t have had my year back, it would have affected me. My goal was to play overseas after college to get a contract,” he said. “I got my year back. It will be better for me to be 100 percent anyways.”
Because Copeland is out for the rest of the season, the team has had to make adjustments to make up for his loss. Although he was a star player, McGraw is confident the team can bounce back without him.
“Since we lost Chad, we’ve had to find ourselves and redevelop an identity. Freshmen have had to step up and there have been some really promising moments that shows that we are still very capable of winning a championship this year,” said McGraw.
Copeland’s surgery is planned for the beginning of February, followed by eight weeks on crutches and physical therapy.
“I believe this will have a happy ending,” Culpo said.