In sports, handling pressure, dealing with disappointment and navigating challenges are always necessary ingredients for success. And Adam Mower, a senior on Adna High School’s boys basketball team, is no stranger to challenges. Back in the summer of 2011 when Mower was going into sixth grade, he got some troubling news.
The painful lump on his left shoulder was cancerous. He had Ewing sarcoma, a life-threatening cancer. That led to shoulder surgery and after four donor bones didn’t work, Mower had a titanium rod put in, replacing his shoulder.
“It feels normal,” Mower said at a recent basketball practice. “I don’t have full range of motion in it, but I can’t really tell there’s a titanium rod in it.”
Now, six years later, Mower is at last living his dream. He’s playing basketball with his buddies, guys who were his teammates in grade school. For the past three years, Mower didn’t get doctors’ permission to play because of the risk of injury. He was limited to being team manager.
“My arm wasn’t strong enough,” said Mower, who is pretty much structurally artificial from the shoulder to the elbow. “And they were worried that it would be taken out of socket if I got hit too hard.”
But rather than pout, disappointed that he couldn’t play, Mower volunteered to be the team manager. Now, after working on his strength, Mower is finally wearing the title he’s longed for – teammate. He’s an off-the-bench backup, living his dream.
“I love basketball. I’m just happy to be here,” Mower said. “It’s amazing.”
Back in grade school, Mower was one of the better players on his team. But until now, he’s been limited to being a dreamer, a wish-I-could-play watcher. Ironically, Mower shares this background with his coach, Luke Salme, who as a kid also had bone cancer. They both had the same doctor.
“That’s just crazy,” Salme said.
When Salme took over as head coach three years ago, he met Mower and they learned they shared the same story.
“I also had a tumor when I was 10,” Salme said. “Same doctor. That’s just crazy.”
Salme has been wowed by Mower’s commitment to the basketball team. Mower hasn’t missed a practice in three years. He even made the Saturday morning workouts when he was the manager or the before-school practices whenever they had them.
Mower got doctor’s approval to turn out for basketball in August.
“It’s such a special thing that he gets a chance to play basketball with his buddies,” Salme said. “He’s as good a human being as there is in this school district. He’s incredible.”
Playing wise, he’s typically a fourth-quarter replacement, giving starters a break or getting playing time with his team holding a big lead. His parents are all in, happy their son finally gets a chance.
“My parents are as excited as I am,” Mower said.
While Mower is disappointed that he was robbed of the opportunity to play basketball the past six years, he feels fortunate to be here. Doctors said if he had waited another month, it would have been too late and he would have died.
Mower, while he’s only really in his rookie season with the varsity team, is one of six seniors on the Pirates’ roster. This Adna team is loaded with experience, off to a 10-1 start after finishing seventh in state last year. Four starters are back and six of the nine players on the roster are seniors. The returning starters are Cody Young, a first-team, all-league point guard last year; Conner Weed, a three-year starter at forward; Blake Davis, a deadeye shooter; and Lyle Metzenberg, who got injured last season. Salme lost just one major player from last year’s team.
“This is definitely an experienced group,” Salme said. “We have nearly everyone back. This is a good year. It’s a special year.”
Weed and Young, knowing this is their last season and their final hurrah with the Pirates, want to make this a season to remember. The experience – many of the players have been teammates since grade school – is their key to success.
“It definitely helps,” Weed said. “We have a couple of juniors who have played since they were freshmen. Our whole team is pretty experienced. So big games doesn’t impact us that much. Different environments don’t bother us.”
That experience reveals everyone’s strengths and it teaches everyone their role. Young, as the starting point guard since he was a sophomore, is a shooter and a passer, averaging about 14 points and six assists.
“I get a lot of people open because if I start scoring defenses, try to take me away,” Young said. “Once I go in I kick it out for easy shots for my teammates.”
It’s not just about scoring points for Young. Sometimes scorers go to sleep on the defensive end, resting up. Not Young.
“I get steals, which turns into points,” Young said.
With the Pirates’ depth in experience and with Mower’s no-quit determination, this Adna team has the potential to return to state and place high. They’re determined to make their final season their best.
“You definitely want to end on a good note, making it far in state,” Weed said. “Hopefully we end our season good.”