As Schadrac Casimir celebrated with his Iona teammates on the Times Union Center court Monday night, his mind was focused on the present but occasionally flashed to the past, in particular the previous 12 months.
Casimir, the former Trinity Catholic star, was the Metro Atlantic Association Conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2015, averaging 14.5 points per game and making the fifth-most 3-point shots in Iona history. The 5-10 guard was living up to his potential after carrying the Crusaders to the state championship game as a senior and then taking a prep year at South Kent.
But the Gaels were upset in the MAAC Tournament, and Casimir only played four games last year before injuring himself last January. He needed hip surgery on each labrum and then another operation for a sports hernia. He was a spectator as Iona reached the NCAA Tournament.
“It was one of the most stressful times of my life,” Casimir said by telephone yesterday, thinking back to watching the team he was supposed to help lead win without him. “Probably the most stressful time of my life.”
Casimir said he gained over 30 pounds and was somewhat lost looking to fill a void. The basketball court had always been both a sanctuary and a place to shine, and now it had been taken away.
“You don’t realize how much you do it, how much time it takes out of your day,” Casimir said. “I had to find new things. Spent more time with family and friends. I had a lot of home time. I stayed after class a little bit more and participated in my school clubs. I was working. I never used to work. I was working with kids, training kids.”
Casimir soon channeled the energy he used to excel in the sport toward returning to it. Which is why there was extra satisfaction Monday as Casimir got his turn to hoist the MAAC championship trophy after an 87-86 overtime win over against Siena.
Casimir is going to the big dance, March Madness. This time he will be on the court.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” Casimir said about Monday’s game. “Last year I was happy for my team but I couldn’t really play. This year I felt more a part of it. I felt responsible for it. Coach trusted me to start. He had faith in me. That meant a lot. That was important. My freshman year was disappointing because I felt we should have won it. This helped make up for it.”
Casimir played 92 minutes in the three playoff games, the most of any three-game stretch this season. He started the final five games after just a pair of starts back in early January. Casimir, who had showed flashes of his old offensive game, scored 22 points in a quarterfinal win over Rider and 10 against Siena.
Casimir is averaging 7 points a game this year.
Casimir accomplished this though he admitted he is probably just 60 percent of the way back.
“Right now there’s just a lot of wear and tear on my body,” Casimir said. “I’m going to take time off after the season. I came back a little early.”
There is still a lot of work ahead. The body still can’t always match Casimir’s instincts. He has been more selective.
“It’s super frustrating but you can’t force it,” Casimir said. “I’ve never been one of those players to force something I can’t do. If I can’t do something I’m not going to just do it to try and live up to something I previously could. Do things for my team to win.
“I didn’t really change my game, I just don’t attack as much,” Casimir added. “Maybe some plays I pulled up instead of going all the way. Basically I played smarter.”
Casimir said he has learned a lot this past year. He can practice full time with the Gaels but is unable to do the outside work that has always set him apart. It takes a year to recover. Casimir said he is counting the days until that time next January.
“I know once I’m able to work out again I’ll be able to get back again because I believe in my work ethic,” Casimir said. “I haven’t been able to work out. That’s the most frustrating thing. I’m on limited time. That’s where I get my confidence from, my workouts, and I haven’t been able to do my one on one workouts. I’ve been able to do more and more so I am gradually getting there.”
Casimir said his time off may have offered a roadmap for his future.
“That’s what made me realize I could see myself working with kids in the future or doing physical therapy,” Casimir said. “It made me think about life after basketball.”
Right now Casimir’s live again is basketball. Next Thursday or Friday he will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for a national audience.
“We just have to get back to work,” Casimir said. “We are going to face some really good teams so we have to do the best we can.”
And at some point next year, Casimir said he anticipates playing a more prominent role in Iona’s drive for a MAAC three-peat.
“Right now I am trying to do it for our seniors,” Casimir said. “I know my time is going to come again.”