By Chad Courrier
The Free Press
Dan Wills remembered how much it hurt when he found out that his knee ligaments had been shredded and he would miss his final basketball season at Mankato West.
But that pain wasn't any greater than what he felt Monday as he watched teammates go through the first practice at the West gym.
"These are my best friends; we've been playing together since fourth grade," Wills said, glancing at the court as the Scarlets went through some drills. "What can I do about it? It sucks."
Wills injured his left knee during a playoff football game at Todnem Field. He was going across the middle to catch a pass, and when he reached back for the low throw, a safety hit him on the knee. Not a violent collision, more of the wrong place, wrong time.
"At the time, I didn't feel anything," Wills said. "It was like it never happened."
But a couple days later, an MRI revealed extensive damage that would end his high-school athletic career.
Wills hadn't played football since ninth grade, but he wanted to join his buddies for the final season and help the team continue its success.
"I missed football those years when I didn't play," he said. "With our tradition, I really thought I could play and help the team.
"I don't regret playing. It's hard to say if I would have gotten hurt doing something else. I really want to be out there (on the basketball court), too."
Wills will have surgery on Dec. 21, repairing the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. After that, he will rehab for five months, hoping he can start playing basketball again next summer.
Wills averaged 18.3 points last season, about one-third of the team's totals. He also averaged 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots, shooting 54 percent from the field and 64 percent on free throws.
The rest of the team had a solid summer, and it appeared that the Scarlets would easily improve on an 8-19 record.
"The team will be fine," Wills said. "I think they're still going to have a good season."
Even though playing football didn't end well, it may have opened some opportunities. Wills said that Minnesota State and St. Olaf have shown some interest in him as a football player, figuring that after a redshirt season, they could use a tight end that goes 6-foot-6 and will probably weigh close to 250 pounds after some weight training.
His top choice for basketball right now is South Dakota School of Mines, where Wills would study engineering, possibly in the aerospace industry.
"Right now, it's hard to say what I'm going to do," Wills said. We'll have to see what opportunities I have."