CARY - In the early evening of a hot July 2011 day, Jared Sarnoff was inside the Cary Academy gym, sweat beading on his brow as he took hundreds of jump shots for what he thought was the proper preparation for his junior year.
Former teammate Jimmy Joyner joined him, then left after an hour.
Sarnoff kept shooting.
Sarnoff’s upcoming junior season was going to be a big one for college recruitment. So he shot for hours, rising up time and again to fire in 3-pointers with amazing regularity and picture-perfect form.
“I was thinking, ‘This is my year to break through and lead the team,’ ” Sarnoff said.
But underneath him, Sarnoff’s junior year was slowly tearing away.
His knees didn’t feel different that day, despite ACL surgery in January 2010 that ended his freshman season.
But a few weeks after that day of grueling training, Sarnoff’s left knee buckled during a pickup game – a torn left ACL, doctors said.
His second comeback attempt was going to be complicated. His right knee had also torn again after he had been playing on it for months.
With his senior season 12 months away, Sarnoff was going to have twice as many knee surgeries – three – than seasons played for his Cary Academy boys’ basketball team.Immobility begins
Sarnoff’s parents, Jeanette and Ken, said their son’s lowest point came right after his successful double-knee surgery.
That’s when Sarnoff first realized how tough his journey was going to be.
Instead of a nine-month rehabilitation program like last time, it was a full year. Instead of crutches and one good leg to use, he was stuck in a wheelchair for a month.
To transport him to school without bending either leg, his parents had to open the back of their van and lay Sarnoff on a stretcher before loading him in.
“In my house, I couldn’t go up the stairs. I was in the kitchen sliding around the floor. It was difficult,” Sarnoff said. “You never think you’re going to be in that situation where you can’t walk without help. You do come to appreciate things you can do every day that others can’t.”
Rehab went well, and Sarnoff was making the best of it. He learned about being a physical therapist and met Purdue’s Robbie Humel – an all-American basketball player who had also torn the same knee twice.
“He grew up a lot with that whole process – just being faced with this kind of adversity,” Jeanette Sarnoff said. “He was always moving forward, not looking back.”Back on the court
When Jared Sarnoff could play again, Cary Academy coach Mindaugas Timinskas saw him struggle.
“In your mind, you think you can do this, but think you can get to the basket this way, and your legs are just not cooperating,” Timinskas said. “I could see him being frustrated quite a few times, and that was tough to watch.”
It took a while for Sarnoff to rid himself of hesitation, even with two lumbering, bulky knee braces with extra padding. The braces are so large that they go higher than the bottom of his shorts and below the top of his socks.
On Dec. 21, the eighth game of the year, Sarnoff finally was ready to show he was back.
He scored 26 points in a win against Raleigh Homeschool, and at no point did he look more like someone who had recovered fully than in the second quarter.
His mother noticed how much more her son was enjoying himself. Ken, also an assistant coach, could see him think less about the injury.
And his teammates are seeing him score more; Sarnoff leads the Chargers with 14.2 points per game.
He knows he can’t get back the season where college coaches are scouting, but he hopes to land a walk-on spot at a Division II or III school.
“I appreciate it more, just being out there,” Sarnoff said. “I know it can be taken away at any time. You’ve just got to enjoy it.”