Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Barnes’ return from ACL injury has given Holy Spirit a huge boost

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher One thing Holy Spirit senior C.J. Barnes doesn’t have a lot of is patience. As soon as he finishes lacing up his shoes, he’s ready for practice to begin. And prior to games, when players in the starting lineup are gathered on the bench ready for their names to be called, Barnes fidgets like a kindergartener who has been placed in timeout. Once he can get his hands on the basketball and dribble it, things come into clearer focus. It’s like that calming effect of the first sip of morning coffee. But when Barnes tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last April during an AAU game with South Jersey Select, he knew he would have to be patient when it came to returning to the basketball court. “I didn’t feel a pop or anything, my knee was just tight. I got up on my own power and walked off the court and went to the bench, but when I tried to run I could only jog. I went two months thinking it wasn’t torn, but the swelling wasn’t going down so I went to Rothman and they said it was torn,” said Barnes, a dynamic point guard who helped lead Holy Spirit to a berth in the Cape-Atlantic League tournament championship game as a junior last season. “I was upset that it happened, but everything happens for a reason. My dad just told me that when it came down to the therapy, I just had to attack it like I wanted it. How bad do I want it was basically what he was asking me. I was thinking about playing my senior year and I’ve been wanting to play my senior year, so it was never a question that I wouldn’t play even though (doctors) were telling me I might not be able to come back until the very end of the season. But I was going to try my best to play.” Normally, the recovery time for an ACL tear is about nine months and can sometimes take as long as a year. Dr. Brian Sokalsky, a sports injury specialist at Jersey Shore Sports Medicine in Ocean City, said that a recovery time of just six months is really fast for an athlete to come back from that type of injury. The reason Barnes was able to come back so quickly is because of the ferocity with which he attacked the rehab process, working with Holy Spirit trainer Steve Murphy every day on various exercises that would help strengthen his knee. Holy Spirit's C.J. Barnes tore the ACL in his right knee last April and had surgery in July, but made it back to the court in just six months to salvage the second half of his senior season. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Holy Spirit’s C.J. Barnes tore the ACL in his right knee last April and had surgery in July, but made it back to the court in just six months to salvage the second half of his senior season. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “He’s a great kid. Everything we’ve seen in the last six months is everything we’ve seen in the last three years with him. He’s got a terrific work ethic, and this is just another example of that,” said Spartans coach Jamie Gillespie. “It’s remarkable that he is back on the court within six months of his surgery date. There aren’t professional athletes who make it back in that time frame with the most advanced rehab facilities, so it’s really a testament to him, his work ethic and his desire to get back and play.” Barnes is a college prospect and he could easily have packed it in for his senior season and continued to rehab in preparation for his college career. “He didn’t lose his leadership qualities. He came to practice every day, talking to the younger kids. He was still very much engaged as a leader despite the fact that he wasn’t on the floor,” Gillespie said. “I certainly didn’t get any message other than he wanted to be back playing as soon as he could. It was never about looking toward his college career, but rather what he could salvage of his senior year for us. We’re just happy for the kid. You don’t wish that kind of injury on anybody, and you’re happy the kid can salvage some part of his senior season.” Barnes he knew the Spartans needed him. Holy Spirit has just one other senior, forward Tyler Jones, and just one junior, Dante Daniel. The rest of the roster is filled with freshmen and sophomores. Gillespie said he and the Spartans’ coaching staff prepared for the season as if they wouldn’t have Barnes. “I think we entered the year as a coaching staff planning to not have him at all. I think if anything, best case scenario, it would be toward the middle or end of February that we would get him back for a couple of games. Slowly but surely, after seeing him and hearing some of the conversations he had with the folks over at Rothman and also our own trainer, we started thinking he could get back in the beginning of February. Then, all of a sudden, he was coming back in the middle of January,” Gillespie said. “I think the hardest part for him was not the initial stuff, but when you get back after Thanksgiving and everybody is practicing and you’re not. The toughest part for him was actually when the season started and he wasn’t out there. He said to me on several occasions that he really wanted to be out there. So I think that, to me, was when the reality of it set in for him more so than back in June or July.” “Once I got into the agility phase, that’s when I started feeling more comfortable again. It was frustrating, but just having my family and friends around to keep my head up pushed me through it. They wanted to see me back on the court just as much as I wanted to be back in action. Them keeping my head up and helping me out through the process was big,” Barnes said. “It was weird (being on the bench) but I had to be patient. Coach Gillespie knew how anxious I was, but I just had to be patient. I was just watching my team and waiting on coming back. I knew it was going to feel so much better once I got back to playing again.” Barnes made his return to the lineup on Jan. 15 as Holy Spirit hosted bitter rival Atlantic City. It was standing room only, as tickets for the game sold out five days in advance. It was the perfect setting for the Spartans to welcome back one of the stars of the team. “Obviously, he’s not 100 percent, and it might be another year before he doesn’t have any lingering effects, but the fact that he is out there is certainly what it’s all about,” Gillespie said. “To see him announced the night of the Atlantic City game in the starting lineup, that brings goose bumps to you, knowing what he went through to get to that moment.” “I was just excited to be back. After missing basketball for so long and finally being able to play again, that was the best feeling. The emotions coming into that game, and all the fans that were going to be at that game, that’s what made it even better,” Barnes said. “You have a full crowd and you’re returning to play again. The emotions were just building. I was on the bench talking to Dante and I was trying to hold back tears. It was so amazing to be back and I was so happy. That was the best way to come back into the season, to get to start in a great rivalry game that beats all other rivalry games. It took me a minute to get into the game flow, but once I got into the flow it made me feel even better.” Barnes has made a huge impact for the Spartans, who before his return had four underclassmen in the starting lineup. Barnes has made a huge impact for the Spartans, who before his return had four underclassmen in the starting lineup. The Spartans lost that game, 56-46, but Barnes made an immediate impact. He and Travis Stoll led Holy Spirit with 14 points each, and his presence lengthened the lineup. Reece Miller, a sophomore who had done an admirable job filling in for Barnes, could now be used off the bench and Drew Gallagher could switch over to point guard. Taking some of the ball-handling duties away from Barnes allows him to put less strain on the knee while also opening him up for some outside shots. The Spartans went 2-1 in their first three games with Barnes in the lineup to improve to 8-3 overall and 5-1 in the CAL American. They entered the second week of February 11-5 overall and in second place behind Atlantic City in the conference standings and in good position to make the CAL tournament again. “Anytime you lose a senior starter it’s going to impact your team. So to get him back as a presence out there takes some of the burden off the sophomores. It changes us, and I think he’s trying to find his way back into the groove and everybody is trying to figure out how we are as a team with him,” Gillespie said. “We played the first third of the season without him, so now we’re trying to figure out as a group what we are with him. You get used to playing X amount of minutes per game with other kids, and now that C.J. is back, that’s an adjustment for everybody.” “I feel like I went through the process and there’s no stopping me in terms of getting stronger every day. I’ll go and work out with Murphy for about 30 minutes before practice, just to make sure I’m strengthening as much as I can on my own time. I’m just trying to keep the legs strong and the hips right,” Barnes said. Seeing Barnes in the gym every day working hard to get back on the court has made a big impact on the sophomores, Gillespie said. “What has been great for the younger guys is to see his work ethic and to see the way he has gone about it in a methodical way,” Gillespie said. “Every day his presence is seen, even if he’s in the corner of the gym working out with our trainer. That is a huge lead-by-example type of thing for the younger guys.” Barnes said his only focus right now is helping the Spartans make a return trip to the CAL championship game — and winning it this time. That would be the ultimate cherry on top of what has been a difficult senior year for him, he said. “I just want to get to that CAL championship game, and I want to win it. It doesn’t matter who we have to play to get there, I just want to get there. It would be a big season if we got there and got to play in that atmosphere with only two seniors and a big group of sophomores,” Barnes said. “All of this couldn’t have happened without my family and my friends, my coaches, my trainer, my dad and mom, grandparents. My girlfriend even took care of me for four or five days after my surgery. All the people who cared about me so much were just helping me along the journey. I can’t do anything else but just thank them for being there for me.” Gillespie said that no matter what happens, the Spartans are better because of Barnes’ return, both on and off the court. “You won’t find a better kid. C.J. has been a tremendous asset to our program from the time he walked in as a freshman,” Gillespie said. “I’m just so happy to see that it’s going to end positively for him instead of him watching from the bench.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]


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