Will Whiteley-Ross was coming down from the high of hitting his very first three-pointer on the very first play of the very first game of the Peninsula Seahawks fall pre-season. The senior had been training all summer for the basketball season and was using “fall ball” as a way to stay in shape.
On the second trip down the court, Whiteley-Ross wanted to drive to the hoop. He likes to go left when his opponents least expect it. He got the ball, he spun from the right, and then – pop.
“I heard it, I felt it, I knew it wasn’t good. But I still wanted to play,” he said. He wouldn’t know it until later, but Whiteley-Ross had just torn his anterior cruciate ligament, a common yet devastating knee injury to basketball players at any level.
He spent the next few months talking with orthopedic doctors and his family about his options, including the possibility of a season-ending surgery.
“This is a 90-day don’t-go-anywhere, don’t-do-anything type of surgery,” said Will’s dad, Neil Whiteley-Ross. For most athletes, the same diagnosis means an additional six- to nine-month rehabilitation stint.
Will had another option: slap on a brace to stabilize his knee and play through the pain.
“Will is a great kid who makes great choices, so I wanted him to make the choice if he wanted to play or not,” Neil said.
It was a simple choice for Will.
“Any way I could be on the court, any way to help the team, that’s what I’m going to do,” said the 6-foot 2-inch forward. “Even if it’s just with one and a half legs.”
The Seahawks started the season off slow, losing their first two games to Bainbridge and Olympia. Albeit a little slower and a little more cautious, Will played at a level that exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“When he is at 100% he’s great, but even with a torn ACL he helps us,” said PHS second-year coach Sean Muilenburg. “The knee brace is the only reminder that he’s injured; otherwise, you’d never know.”
Will tweaked his knee again in a win against Central Kitsap Dec. 6 and opted to sit out the next three games – a win and two close losses for the Seahawks, now 2-4 (2-1 in the South Sound Conference) on the season. His first game back was Dec. 15 in a 64-40 loss to North Thurston, a team that has won each of its games by 17 or more points.
“This team is night and day when Will isn’t playing,” said Muilenburg. “He settles us down and helps us stay focused.”
Will took advantage of his time on the bench saying it gave him a whole different perspective about the game. “I think it’s beneficial sometimes to take a break and see where we can improve as a team.” He mentioned how he enjoyed watching his younger teammates step up in his absence, namely Aiden Muilenburg, Wyatt Abrigo and Isaac Schultz-Tait. “I’m really impressed with them.”
He ices his knee after every game and practice and notices the pain most before he goes to bed at night. He chose to play and he is willing to deal with it.
“I’m just thugging it out,” he said. “Pain is just weakness leaving the body. It’s only temporary.” He plans to get surgery on his knee when the season is over.
Normally the Seahawks could nurse some injuries and rest up during the upcoming holiday break, but the team is heading to San Diego to play in a tournament just before the New Year.
“Will is an amazing kid on and off the court – he’s just a good person. I get chills talking about him,” Muilenburg said. “He deserves to finish doing something like this that he loves to do.”
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