UNBROKEN: How a year off from playing basketball broke down and built Elijah Hughes back up

first_imgElijah Hughes tattooed his leg shortly after Syracuse’s season-ending loss to Duke last year. Starting just below the knee and reaching down to his ankle, black letters spell out “LYBB.”“Last year being broke,” Hughes explained.It’s not just about money. The 2017-18 basketball season was Hughes’ last year being broken physically, mentally and emotionally.The tattoo symbolizes his struggles from the past year, enduring an entire season without playing competitive basketball due to NCAA transfer rules after he left East Carolina the year prior. An entire season watching from the sideline as the Orange made an NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16. An entire season of frustration, because he couldn’t help. But Nov. 6, in SU’s season opener against Eastern Washington inside the Carrier Dome, Hughes’ one-year hiatus from meaningful college game action will finally end.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text,“Seeing everybody there and the excitement around it,” Hughes said of last season, “I wanted to physically be a part of it. So that was hard.”The frustration mounted at times last season, but it never took away from Hughes’ game, his father Wayne said.“It’s like when you feel like you’re hungry, you’re ready to eat,” Wayne said. “You’re not mad at the food, you’re just ready to eat. He just has a hunger in him that he could not feed and that was very obvious.“You could tell he was starving to play.”Each week, Wayne advised his son to focus on tangible improvement. If he improved something small in his dribble or added a few more pounds of muscle, it would amount to substantial progress. Wayne believed small improvement over time would result in a successful redshirt year.Because he couldn’t play in games, Hughes took advantage of each practice. He guarded preseason All-ACC teammate Tyus Battle and learned Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.“His shots gotten a lot better,” Battle said. “He’s in much better shape.”On game days in the Carrier Dome, Hughes sat courtside with the team. But sitting so close to the court never made it seem further away. While his teammates slipped on white and orange jerseys, Hughes sported a sweat suit.Four to five hours before game time, Syracuse players warmed up on one side of the court. Hughes often stood near assistant coach Gerry McNamara on the other side of the court, working on the Hughes’ jumper.“When everyone was getting ready to play, and you just had to wait and watch and wear a sweat suit,” senior guard Ky Feldman said. “That was toughest for him.”Battle was roommates with former-SU player Matthew Moyer who sat out his first year with the team. He knew how the time off breaks a player down emotionally and mentally.“It’s always tough,” Battle said. “He loved playing basketball and not being able to play for a whole entire season is rough.”Hughes felt isolated at times during away games, Wayne said. While the team traveled, Hughes stayed on campus. There was no one to practice with.During those trips, Hughes returned to his home in Beacon, New York. Hughes played with friends at nearby colleges or in local men’s leagues, anything to ensure a basketball was in his hands in a semicompetitive environment.,Hughes wanted to be challenged physically so that he could build himself back up better and stronger. He cut off “baby fat,” replacing it with muscle, he said. He focused on conditioning, his 3-point shot and playing as a forward, rather than his traditional shooting guard position.“He really played just about every possession of practice, with one group or another,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He very seldom came out.”It took six months before he was finally cleared to travel with the team. When Syracuse qualified for the NCAA Tournament, Hughes went to Detroit with the Orange.Still, something was different. He stood, watching on the sideline, as his team downed Arizona State, TCU and Michigan State before eventually falling in the Sweet 16 to Duke.At that moment, walking off the court with his team, it was the end of Hughes’ redshirt season. It was his last time “being broke.”Whenever Hughes worked out alongside Feldman last season, the two often talked about Hughes playing in games and how he could help the team.They discussed celebrations after hitting 3s, the games they’d travel to and what would happen when Hughes put on the Syracuse uniform.That time has finally come.During Syracuse’s first scrimmage against the College of Saint Rose, Hughes walked into the Carrier Dome locker room.This time, below his white game shorts, the letters “LYBB” spread down his leg.“You don’t play for a year and a half and then you play again,” Hughes said. “It’s like you’re reborn.”Cover photo by Josh Shub-Selzter | Staff Photographer,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.last_img

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