GREENBELT – When Eleanor Roosevelt starting point guard Akil Charles went down with a broken left elbow in November, it threatened to ruin his senior season and hamper the Raiders’ chance at another state tournament trip.
But Charles got the cast off on Monday, and is aiming to make his season debut on Friday when Roosevelt hosts Bladensburg.
The injury may even end up benefitting Charles and the Raiders in the long run.
“It got me better,” the left-handed Charles said after practice last Thursday. “I can shoot with my right hand now, so I’ll be able to do it with both hands when I get back. And it made me see the floor better.”
In Charles’ absence, 6-4 senior guard Chaun Miller has handled the point, with senior B.J. Antoine, junior Trevor Evans, sophomore Tiwain Kindley and even 6-foot-6 junior forward Malachi Alexander bringing the ball up at times.
“I hope it’s going to help us, because we’ve been playing and playing okay without a really good player,” Roosevelt coach Brendan O’Connell said. “So hopefully adding a good player into the mix will make us better. Chaun got that experience — everyone got that experience — of handling the ball a lot.”
Charles’ return seemed anything but certain when his injury occurred. In the second half of the team’s second preseason scrimmage — at home against DeMatha Catholic on Nov. 26 — Charles jumped to catch an outlet pass from Alexander. He was undercut by a DeMatha player and fell to the floor, breaking his elbow when he landed.
“Anytime someone gets undercut and lands on it, it’s bad,” O’Connell said, “and then you could tell right away. He’s a kid that’s always falling on the ground and hopping right back up, so when he fell on the ground and was in that kind of pain, I knew it wasn’t good.”
The 5-foot-11, 155-pound Charles said the original prognosis was that he would miss six to eight weeks, though he was told be could be back earlier. It wasn’t the first time he’d suffered an injury to the arm, as he broke his left wrist in 7th grade. He said the toughest part this time around was using his right hand to write and eat, although he’s now capable of doing so with both hands.
“I was mad, but I wasn’t going to stay down,” Charles said. “It was a chance to get better. I helped coaching; when you’re sitting on the bench, you see the game differently. So mistakes I was making, I saw them, so when I get back it helped me get better."
Charles added, "I worked on passing with my right hand, so it made me even harder to stop. So I’m not even that mad it happened.”
For O’Connell, Charles’ latest injury meant that for the second year in a row he needed to replace his starting point guard on the fly. Last season, expected starter Jamal Sims tore up his knee in the team’s first game and missed the entire season.
With Sims out, though, Charles ended up getting a lot more playing time than he originally would have, which put him in position to lead the team this year.
“We were expecting him to probably play the entire game unless he was in foul trouble,” O’Connell said of Charles.
“He’s a kid that, he was our best ball handler; he’s our only real point guard. He’s in great shape — he’s in the best shape on the team, so it’s not like he gets winded. We were expecting him to be on the floor a lot," O'Connell added.
While Charles is ready to jump right back into things, O’Connell has told him to temper his expectations.
“I keep telling him, though, he’s not going to be the same player he thinks he is in his head when he comes back. So that’s going to be another struggle for him," O'Connell said.
"He’s going to be back on the court and think he can do the same stuff he was doing six weeks ago. His feel’s going to be gone, and his touch is going to be gone. He’ll get that back, but it’s going to be a work in progress with him for a couple of weeks," O'Connell added.
Charles, though, has remained level-headed about his situation, and just wants to be in position to help the Raiders make a run at a third straight state tournament.
“I wanted to do good my senior season and lead my team to a good record and win a championship,” he said. “… My ultimate goal is a ring, so I’m not worried about this. I’ve still got plenty of time.”