By Sam Loveys
The National Capital All-Star Classic returned for the first time in four years earlier this month, and with it came the triumphant return of a player who’d been sidelined almost as long.
The basketball showcase featured a major comeback for Jake Dykeman, who completed a long road back from two broken legs to play for the under-14 boys’ gold team in the game.
“Mentally, there may not be a tougher individual I’ve come across,” signals Shamir Kanji, a past coach of Dykeman’s with the Kanata Youth Basketball Association. “He’s a model for anyone facing a major injury.”
Mike Dykeman, Jake’s father, remembers his son having a basketball in his hand pretty much all the time since age four or five.
Jake loved playing novice house league basketball and quickly became one of the most skilled players on the court. He wasn’t one of the tallest players though, and was overlooked for a U11 selects team. But he was swooped up by the U12 squad instead since they saw his potential as a point guard.
“He’s smaller, but faster and more skilled than most of the other players,” highlights Kanji, noting Jake also excelled at ball handling and shooting.
But Jake’s rapid growth as a player was stalled in an instant by an August 2021 accident in another sport activity. He broke both of his tibias – the primary bone in the leg, which is responsible for bearing a person’s weight.
Hospitalized for over a week and forced to a wheelchair for a considerable period, Jake had to grapple with being unable to walk, much less run on a basketball court.
“It was a rough couple months,” Mike recalls. “We had to grapple with first-floor living, missed a lot of school, and definitely no basketball that season.”
“The whole time in the hospital and the first three weeks of being in a wheelchair was a rock bottom moment for me,” Jake echoes. “There’s very little to do when you’re stuck to one floor, and your eyes start to hurt from watching too many movies and TV shows.
“I slept a lot. Sleep was good. Really there’s not much to do but sit there.”
But Jake never gave up on basketball and found ways to improve his game despite his limitations.
“I remember about a month after the injury, he said, ‘Put me in the wheelchair and take me over to the net. I gotta start working on my shot,’” Mike recounts. “He worked in the cold until his hands were numb. Some of the coaches heard about it and opened up some gym space to do some shooting in the gyms from his chair.”
Jake’s mom Daniela also built a miniature basketball net in their living room, along with a track to make sure the ball came right back to him.
“It was like those basketball arcade games and it was able to entertain me for a few days,” smiles Jake.
“While he was in casts from his feet up to his hips, he shot and he shot and he shot on that makeshift net,” Mike adds.
It was clear that throughout his injury, Jake’s mind was preoccupied with the burning desire to get back on the court. A few months after the injury, the casts were finally removed, but the real struggle was just beginning.
“I was pretty much like a baby,” Jake indicates. “When you don’t move your legs for that period of time, your nerves forget pretty much everything. How to run, walk, bear weight, how to do anything.”
He quickly began a strenuous physical therapy and rehab schedule, which still takes up a significant amount of his time each day.
“Some of the exercises might seem funny, but it was as simple as thinking about trying to raise my toe or flexing my calf – something that you would never think you’d have to learn,” Jake explains. “Compare that to now where I’m not only weight bearing, but doing strength exercises. It’s progressed a lot.”
Almost 15 months after his injury, Jake was finally allowed to return to basketball, though his recovery remains ongoing.
“We still go (to physiotherapy) one or two times a week,” Jake notes. “I still have little kinks in my legs that need to be fixed. My knees were hurting a lot. My ankles are stiff. There’s still a lot of things that we’re working on.
“There’s no timeline (for a full recovery). As soon as I was able to walk, I was like, ‘Oh, I can run soon, right?’ But it’s been a year and I still struggle with it. Even just overthinking where to hit my foot on the ground while running. Heel and toe planting has been difficult.
“There’s been a lot of times where it’s not even my tibia, but from the result of sitting down for months.”
Jake managed to perform well enough during his season with the Kanata Cavaliers to be selected to play in the National Capital All-Star Classic, which began as a showcase for middle school basketball players and expanded to offer U16 and U18 girls’ divisions this year at Algonquin College. But he almost had to miss the big game on June 3 due to lingering injuries.
“He was in physio the Friday night before the Saturday game, because he was having some issues with his quads and his knees,” Mike outlines. “He had to take the entire week off before the game just in case he re-aggravated something while training.”
In the end, Jake did get to play, helping team gold to a 58-52 win over team black. The game highlight for those in the gym came near the end of the first half.
“Jake hit an amazing three-pointer,” recounts Kanji. “The benches on both teams went completely crazy.
“The other players have a great deal of respect for Jake. He commands it.”
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