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VOL. 131 | NO. 226 | Friday, November 11, 2016

Rykhoek’s College Basketball Life Reborn at Memphis After Multiple Surgeries

By Don Wade

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In November, before the first game of the season, a 23-year-old college basketball player should be talking about what he wants to accomplish in his last year. He should be talking about the best moments of his career to date, what he has learned in the 100 or so games that have come before, and how he wants to make a few more memories.

University of Memphis center Chad Rykhoek (15) goes up for a shot in the Tigers’ exhibition game against Christian Brothers University Monday, Nov. 7. Rykhoek, a graduate transfer from Baylor, has yet to play a Division I basketball game because of multiple injuries and surgeries. He is expected to start in the season opener Monday, Nov. 14.

(Joe Murphy)

But University of Memphis senior Chad Rykhoek, a graduate transfer from Baylor University, can’t do any of that. 

He has yet to play his first college basketball game. And when he finally does, on Monday, Nov. 14, for the Tigers vs. the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley at FedExForum, it is believed he might be the first Division I player to make his debut as a graduate transfer.

So when Rykhoek – pronounced RYE-cook – tells of his journey from there to here, he doesn’t speak of best moments or helpful coaches or funny teammates. 

No, he talks about doctors. And surgeries. And hour upon hour of rehab.

“I had great physical therapists,” he said, hobbling down memory lane. “Spent a lot of time with those people.”

Tall Order

A dream must first have breath and life before it can be threatened. Chad Rykhoek’s dream began the way it does for most boys, shooting at a hoop outdoors. His father and grandfather had played small college basketball. Definitely, there was something in the genes.

But his mother and father divorced when Chad was very young. Over the years, he saw his father infrequently. It fell to his grandfather to put up a basketball goal.  

“One at his house and one at ours so wherever he was, he could shoot and practice,” said Joe Breshears, Chad’s grandfather.

Chad was raised in Keller, Texas, and, well, you know what they say about Texas. He grew to be 6-foot-11. He averaged 24.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks as a senior at Fort Worth Christian High School. The scouting services had him as a Top-150 prospect. College coaches, still unable to teach height, were drooling.

“God blessed him with his dream out of high school,” said his mother, Teri Crisco. “Thirteen Division I schools offered scholarships.”

The offers included the University of Texas, SMU – then coached by Larry Brown – and Colorado, Iowa and Baylor. He chose the last, to stay close to home.

But he never made it on the court. First came a hernia surgery. Then a surgery on his right hip. Then double-groin surgery. And almost two years ago now, a surgery on his left hip. 

If this wasn’t enough, he also developed a nasty case of TMJ – probably from so much gritting of his teeth.

“He’s been through the ringer,” his mom said.

He eventually left Baylor’s program, but he never abandoned the dream of playing Division I college basketball. 

“I just kept focus on the bigger picture,” Chad said, admitting there were fleeting moments he wondered if the pain was all worth it, adding, “You’d have those thoughts every once in a while, but then I’d snap out of it, rely on God to get me through it.”

Dress Rehearsal

The Tigers played Christian Brothers University in an exhibition game on Monday, Nov. 7, at FedExForum. A last tune-up for the team, a run-through for Rykhoek. 

His mom and grandfather made the trip, but his grandmother, Marilyn Breshears, 82, stayed back in Texas with a case of shingles; she will be part of the traveling party for Chad’s real debut.

“We’ve been with him all the way in heart and spirit, traveling with him to doctors and surgeries,” said his grandfather, adding that they plan to make a week of it and see three games.

First-year Memphis coach Tubby Smith started Rykhoek at center vs. CBU, as he is expected to do in the season opener. The Tigers desperately need Rykhoek’s size (6-11 and 230 pounds) and are hopeful he can take some pressure off forward Dedric Lawson.

Rykhoek only played 17 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with seven points on 2-of-5 shooting, 3-of-5 from the free-throw line, two blocks, two turnovers and one rebound. 

“For a guy who hadn’t played in (several) years, I was very impressed,” Smith said.

But not satisfied. 

“Second half, he started taking the ball to the basket,” Smith said. You can see he’s a good passer. Sometimes, he just needs to make the easy pass, but that’s gonna come. I was happy with his performance. Like to see him rebound the ball better. …

“He did some good things defensively, but he did some things like chucking the cutter, which is illegal. But otherwise, I was happy. He ran the floor, looked like his stamina was good. He’s gotten stronger. I’m very happy with where he is at this point in time.”

Worth the Wait

Long ago, when grandfather and grandson first stayed playing catch with a baseball, Chad showed an ability to throw with either hand. Joe Breshears laughs as he recalls that he never would have realized Chad was ambidextrous through basketball because, “When he shot he had to use both hands because he wasn’t strong enough to get the ball up to the basket.”

Now, though, Chad is comfortable using either hand around the basket and he can dribble with either hand. He shoots left-handed from distance. 

But at some level, his skills are all just so much hope and potential and theory trapped in a medically induced purgatory. 

The question everyone, including Chad, wants answered: What can he do in a real Division I game? 

“He knows he has to prove himself,” his mother said. 

And it starts with his college debut at 7 p.m., on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. 

“Not exactly the history I thought I was gonna have,” Chad said of playing his first game as a grad transfer. “But I’ll take it.”

And maybe more. This is perhaps only a beginning. Because he had medical problems that prevented him from playing in consecutive years, the family believes there is a great chance the NCAA will grant Chad an additional year of eligibility.

Documentation is not expected to be an issue.

Said Mom: “We can just say, ‘Call this doctor, call that doctor.’” 

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