The comeback kid

May. 25, 2014 @ 08:36 PM

Logic, backed by medicine, dictated that Luke Duprey’s Duke lacrosse career ended April 11.

The senior defenseman suffered two torn ligaments in his right knee that day as the Blue Devils beat Virginia 17-15.

But even while the injury and the dire diagnosis were still fresh, Duprey set his mind upon suiting up again for Duke.

A fortunate break here and there, some intense rehabilitation and video evidence finally convinced his doctors to give him a chance.

On Saturday, when Duke played Denver in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, Duprey trotted onto the field during the first half, completing his comeback.

“Amazing,” Duprey said in describing his thoughts. “Incredible. Sitting on the sidelines for five weeks was challenging for me. I’ve never missed a game or a practice in my entire Duke career. Getting back out there with the ability to do everything and to run around was awesome.”

The reality, though, is that Duprey’s is a feel-good story that doesn’t always feel good. He’ll still need surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.

He’s risking further damage to the knee as doctors have estimated there’s an 80-90 percent chance he can tear the meniscus (cartilage). He’s also prone to what’s called pivot shifting, where the unstable knee pops out of place and pops back into position when he plants and cuts.

Duprey admits that is “pretty painful” but it doesn’t stop him from playing, which he plans to do one more time when Duke plays Notre Dame in the NCAA championship game today (1 p.m., ESPN2) at M&T Bank Stadium.

“This is the pinnacle of my college career,” Duprey said. “This is the most important thing in my life. These are the most important people in my life. I have 60 minutes left of lacrosse and I have the whole summer to heal and rest. One way or another I’m going to need surgery. I might as well risk it and if I do damage, so be it.”

Even though Duprey told teammates the day after the injury that he’d be back to play in the Final Four, it was the longest of long shots.

“The doctors strongly advised him that he should not be playing,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “As a senior captain and somebody who takes great pride in what he does, he’s almost willing himself through rehab.”

Duprey wouldn’t take no for an answer. He started rehabilitating the knee for a couple of weeks following the injury.

“I was able to move around, walk without crutches,” Duprey said. “I was able to do some things that were pretty uncharacteristic of the injury.”

Still, his daily pleas with the training staff to let him play were met with denials.

So at the team’s training facility, Duprey showed them he could jump and cut. That convinced them to follow him to the practice field for more extensive workouts about three weeks after the injury “They were taking videos of me doing drills,” Duprey said. “Running forwards, backwards, shuffling left to right. That’s what I used to show the doctors. You said I can’t play. I can play.”

Duprey started building the strength in his leg back up in preparation for a return to practice, which occurred two weeks ago.

“I think nobody was going to tell Luke that he wasn’t going to play,” Duke sophomore midfielder Myles Jones said. “He wanted to play by any means.”

Seeing him in the game for Duke against Denver provided the Blue Devils a boost.

“I was amazed watching him out there, to be honest,” Duke senior midfielder Christian Walsh said. “I’ve seen him do it in practice a little bit here and there. But to see him on the field, the way he played (Saturday) was awesome and definitely gave us a lift.”

Duprey isn’t playing just to be part of a championship team. He was a starter last season when Duke won its second NCAA title.

He can’t play as many minutes as he did before the injury.

But he refused to let his career end on a timetable other than the one he set. By being on the field for the NCAA final today, he’s taken it as far as the schedule allows and far past what conventional medicine said was possible.

“That kid,” Jones said. “He just wants to play. He wants to be there for the team. He’s a captain. He has great pride and I’m happy for him that he’s on the field making plays for us.”