By KEVIN ROSSI
He’s down on the floor underneath the basket, writhing in pain. He’s clutching his right ankle. The gymnasium is silent.
His mother made the trip down from New York to see her son play. She’s in the stands but doesn’t see the play. A friend points out that it may be her baby who is down.
For a moment, the college basketball world contained within the legendary Palestra walls stops and holds its collective breath. Flashes of what was supposed to be danced through the minds of Drexel and Penn fans alike. He was finally fully healthy to start a season. He was to lead the Blue and Gold to revenge.
Just a moment earlier, the fifth-year senior guard was looking to finish off a layup in transition. The next, trainers are helping him off of the court. He bears no weight on the injured limb. Anguish and pain have overtaken the emotions on his face.
Nobody wants to see a player go down, especially one who has faced so much adversity in the past. Life has a funny way of teaching its lessons, but this – this — is too much. Everybody hopes for the best, but fears the worst.
Drexel needs its leader. Drexel needs its scorer, its sharpshooter.
Drexel needs Chris Fouch.
Christopher Fouch was born to Bernard and June Fouch on Dec. 3, 1990. His parents raised him alongside his two older brothers and his older sister in the Bronx, N.Y. Chris was the baby of the family.
He was raised on sports. He was good at baseball, good at football. He was an all-around athlete. But he always came back to his first love of basketball.
Chris fell in love with basketball early on. Any round object he picked up, he worked on his shooting form. Basketballs, baseballs, tennis balls, apples, it didn’t matter. Set-up, extend, flick the wrist, watch the backspin, and catch. Over and over again, he did this.
One night, 3-year-old Chris was shooting baskets on a miniature hoop in the foyer of the family’s home. June watched him make shot after shot. She knew he was on to something special.
“At a very young age, I realized that he had a talent and some intelligence shooting the ball,” June said. “He would just stand and shoot. That’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to stand and shoot from far out.”
Eight or nine years old, that’s when Chris said he really started to get serious about the game and started playing AAU hoops for the New York Gauchos. He was hooked. His love for the game was helped by the opportunity to play on some good teams, and, of course, that sweet shooting stroke.
“I was always able to shoot,” Chris confidently said. “At a young age I was shooting threes when the other kids weren’t. I guess it’s a kind of natural gift from my father.”
Although the odds of making those long shots were not in his favor, he kept shooting. He wasn’t scared. That’s not who Chris Fouch is.
Doctor’s office waiting rooms are all too familiar to Chris, almost synonymous with his basketball career. It’s where he waited to hear that he would miss his freshman season with a torn ACL and torn meniscus suffered in a summer pick-up game. It’s where he waited to hear that he would need offseason knee surgery, causing him to miss the start of his junior season.
“After the first one you’re like, ‘Come on, man. I get it now,’” he said with a loaded grin.
The waiting room is cramped, stale with silence. Broken is the silence only when a nurse or doctor opens the door to call the next patient. Patience is the hardest part of all, though. How can he be patient with the thoughts, the doubts, crowding his mind?
All Chris wanted was for the doctor to open the door. He didn’t want to wait any longer. He wanted the toxic mix of hope and despair to stop. He wanted to know the fate of his Drexel basketball career.
Finally, the doctor stepped out to give the final diagnosis. His mother and Drexel trainer Mike Westerfer by his side, the doctor lays the news on them.
Chris’s right ankle is broken. His season is likely over.
On Monday night, the public announcement is made. Chris Fouch will miss the remainder of the season with a broken ankle.
Two days prior, there was hope. Hope that the Dragons would turn their season around and hope that Chris’s ankle was merely sprained.
At the time, the team was getting ready to fly out to California to participate in the Anaheim Classic. They loaded onto the team bus headed for the airport. They had to make one quick stop, though. They had to check in on their fallen leader.
“They all hugged him,” June said, choking back tears. “That hurt me. That made tears come out of my eyes. I knew the pain that he was feeling.”
Chris watched the team from home. June watched in a different room. She couldn’t bear to see the look on Chris’s face. Just knowing how bad her baby wanted to be out there with his team in his senior year under the bright lights made her tear up.
It was a blessing to have Chris home with the family for Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t the plan. The plan was for June to fly out to Anaheim to watch the team play. She already had purchased the ticket. The plan was to spend Thanksgiving with the team. Instead, the family found themselves sitting around the dinner table wondering what Chris’s next step would be.
How quickly life can change.
His ability to shoot the basketball opened up a world of opportunities in the game. He played for the Gauchos from before he was 10 years old until he graduated high school. He played under Maurice Hicks at Rice High School. Being around some of the top talent and top coaches that New York had to offer helped Chris progress.
“I got to play with two programs that are nationally known and got a lot of experience playing with both of them,” Chris said.
With the opportunities, Chris excelled. He was named First Team All-New York City. He was named most valuable player at the NIKE Super 6 Invitational. He won city and state championships. He earned a scholarship to play Division I college basketball at Drexel University.
In the end, Chris went down in the record books as one of the finest shooters in New York high school basketball history, but not before he cemented his place in basketball lore with one single game.
Even after hearing the doctor say that his season was likely over, Chris did not want to believe it. It was his senior year. He had already battled back from injury twice before. There was no way he was going to go down like this.
If he worked hard to rehabilitate and fought through some pain, then a comeback for the CAA tournament at the beginning of March was possible. All he wanted to do was play basketball, so he would try his best. At the same time, he had applied for a medical redshirt, but the NCAA has a history of unpredictability.
He hoped to be granted another season, a full season so that he could show the world what a healthy Chris Fouch could do. Still, he had to get ready to play just in case.
“I just wanted to get out there so bad,” Chris said, “so I was in there every day, two or three times a day, just going through rehab. It was painful, but it really helped me along the way.”
Ultimately, he did not play again last season. The rehabilitation was working but getting back to game speed was a whole different challenge. Drexel was in the midst of a tough season anyway. It didn’t look like they were going to go far in the conference tournament, with or without him.
He turned his attention to being granted that redshirt. He waited. And waited. Patience, just like waiting for the doctor.
On April 26, the announcement was made. The verdict was in. The NCAA had granted the medical redshirt, giving Chris a sixth year of college basketball.
This gave him time to strengthen his ankle, above all.
“I got the news that I was going to be able to play a sixth year, so we slowed it down a little bit to give it time to heal up,” he said. “It was tough, though. I’m glad I went through it. It made my ankle a lot better.”
Chris graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Degree in hand, ankle nearing 100 percent, and the option to play another year, Chris had a big decision to make: play another year of basketball or move on to the real world?
Chris had the hot hand, and his teammates just kept finding him. It felt like every shot he put up would go in. He was on fire. His teammates called him “Fire Drill.”
It was April of 2008, Chris’s senior year of high school. The Gauchos were playing Lindenhurst in Queens, N.Y. as part of an IS8 spring league tournament. Going in, it felt like any other game. Chris was ready to play, ready to shoot, as he always is.
That day, though, he just couldn’t miss. “I don’t think I could have missed if I wanted to,” he said.
“I don’t even know if I’d be able to do it again if nobody was out there,” he added, laughing while looking back.
After the first quarter, he didn’t even realize how many points he actually had. He had 27 points, and they all came within the natural flow of the game.
At the time, former Villanova guard Corey Fisher held the IS8 single game scoring record with 71 points. Chris’s teammates began to realize the record was within reach, so they kept feeding him the ball.
He may only be listed at 6-foot-2, but his presence loomed large on the court. Fire Drill would not cool down.
The Gauchos won the game 123-76. Chris broke Fisher’s record, scoring 72 points. He hit 16 3-pointers. He almost outscored the entire opposing team.
In the long history of New York City high school basketball, Chris had etched his place.
Head coach Bruiser Flint needed to know if Chris would be back. If not, he needed to find a recruit to fill the void. He met with Chris, Bernard, and June in his office. He asked Chris what he wanted to do.
Chris wanted to continue playing. He wants to play professional basketball.
“I told him, in order to continue doing what you want to do and play, you’re going to have to show people that you are able to be healthy for a season,” Flint said, frankly. “If not, you’re not going to be able to get a job playing basketball.”
Flint wanted to make sure that Chris was coming back for himself, though. He did not want Chris to feel like he owed the team or the school anything. Chris already had given them everything he had, and, two knee surgeries and one ankle surgery later, it was time for him to make the decision for himself.
“His medical records are unbelievable,” Flint said. “I wanted him to come back because he feels as though he wants to improve. All of that stuff will fall into place if he came back for the right reasons. I told him to be selfish about it.”
A decision was made. His mind had been made up long before.
Chris enrolled in Drexel’s sport management graduate program. He would play out his sixth and final season for Flint and the Dragons. For his final season, he had two goals: win a CAA championship and stay healthy.
Life teaches lessons in a funny way. We are not measured by how we handle the highs but instead how we overcome the lows. How have you dealt with the lows?
Chris Fouch has seen the bottom. He has had the sport he loves taken away from him three different times. Each time he has grabbed it right back, not allowing his lows to define who he is.
“They haven’t seen the real Chris Fouch yet,” June said. “Nobody has seen yet what Chris Fouch can really do.”
Here we have a player who has come back from two major knee surgeries and still played at an incredibly high level. He was the first player from Drexel to win CAA Rookie of the Year. He was named Third Team All-CAA as a sophomore. Coming into his sixth season, he was 20th on Drexel’s all-time scoring list with 1,194 points and seventh in school history with 203 3-pointers.
We haven’t seen the real Chris Fouch yet?
That’s a scary thought. He has a chance to finish top five on Drexel’s career scoring list. What does that say about the kind of person Chris Fouch is, the kind of resilience he has?
“It says that I’ve never given up after I’ve gotten hurt so many times,” Chris said, really trying to grasp how far he has come. “A lot of people would get down on themselves if they kept going through injuries like I have.”
“I’ve tried to stay positive throughout the whole thing and I’ve done what I’ve needed to do to get back on the court and produce at a high level,” he continued. “If I’m fortunate enough to end up top five in scoring, I think that tells a story that if you keep working hard, you can still have a successful career although you’ve had those injuries.”
The next time Chris will suit up in the Blue and Gold will be under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden. Drexel plays No. 4 Arizona on Wednesday in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off. A win could define redemption for the Dragons just as much as it would for Chris.
He goes in leading the Dragons’ potent guard-oriented scoring attack with 17.3 points per game. It will be the sixth time he has played at the Garden in his basketball career but the first in college. The homecoming will be a welcomed difference from one year ago this month when he was sitting at home on crutches.
“It’s always fun playing in the Garden,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “To experience it at the college level in my senior year with a team I think can do special things is really great.”
He stopped counting the number of friends and family members who will be at the game. There are too many. June, his biggest fan, will be among the contingent.
“I cannot even explain to you about how I am so filled with joy for him after last year to come home and perform on the big stage in New York City,” his mother said. “I texted him (before) the Rutgers game, ‘Home is where the heart is. If you want to make it home, this is it.’ I can’t wait. I have butterflies in my stomach.”
How have you dealt with life’s lows? How have you played the cards you’ve been dealt? Did you lie down in the face of adversity or did you meet it head on?
Chris Fouch has had basketball, the game he loves, ripped away from him three times. A torn ACL. A major knee surgery. A broken ankle.
All you can do is shake your head at the audacity life can have sometimes. Some may just call it bad luck.
Each time, he has met the lows with resilience. He has turned his adversity into his successes. He has risen above the negatives just like he rises above a defender’s outstretched hand to knock down a jump shot.
Odds have never scared him. Shooting percentages decrease the farther a shooter is from the basket. Chris always has been the one to keep moving back, stare the odds in the face, and take a shot, whether he’s on or off the court.
Usually, he makes it.
Life has a funny way of teaching lessons. Chris Fouch has learned them all, and he has earned the rewards.
-Kevin Rossi covers Drexel for Philahoops. Reach him at [email protected] or @kevin_rossi on Twitter. Leave comments below.