'Miracle'

The Baltimore Sun

Early in the season, the Parkville home crowd was practically begging coach Rod Norris to put Josh Corbett in the game.

But Corbett, a junior who had a breakout sophomore season, remained seated on the bench. What some in the crowd didn't realize was that just being in uniform was a major accomplishment for the 6-foot-7 forward.

Last summer, Corbett was on life support in a medically induced coma for four days after being seriously injured in a car accident. He suffered brain trauma, a collapsed lung, a lacerated liver and a broken clavicle, among other injuries.

The accident occurred July 4. Corbett was four miles away from seeing the ocean for the first time, as he was headed to Virginia Beach, Va., with family friends.

He was asleep in the back seat when the driver dozed off. The car flipped over three times before landing in a ravine. Of the four passengers, Corbett was the most severely hurt.

Corbett believes faith, family and friends helped pull him through. Dedication, hard work and his love for basketball got him back on the hardwood.

During every stage of his recovery after the first week in shock trauma - from the three weeks in the progressive care unit in Virginia to the three weeks of outpatient rehabilitation when he returned home in August - Corbett would ask the same question: "When can I play basketball?"

"Yeah, I love basketball," he says in a gentle tone that reflects his warm personality. "It's just the game itself."

Dr. Ajai K. Malhotra, the associate director of trauma at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center who treated Corbett, said: "The first thing, of course, was life. But once the immediate, life-threatening injuries subsided, what was most concerning was how much he would be able to get back into life - including playing basketball - and that would depend on his brain.

"It took about two or three weeks before he started to say his own name and understand what people were saying. The fact that in a fairly short period of time he's back to school and back playing basketball and essentially back into life ... it's pretty amazing."

Josh's mother, Carla Corbett, found another word for it.

"He's my miracle," she said. "He just showed his will to live from the very beginning. And once he really came to himself and remembered what he was doing, [basketball is] all he would talk about."

At this time last year, Corbett had quickly developed into something special, and so did the Knights. After leading the junior varsity team in scoring as a freshman, Corbett had no problem adjusting to varsity, bringing confidence, aggressiveness and consistency to earn a starting job.

Norris was impressed with Corbett's natural ability and versatility. While most players tend to grab an offensive rebound and want to bring it back down, Corbett kept the ball high and it was quickly in the basket for two points.

He averaged 16 points - reaching double figures in 17 games - and contributed eight rebounds as the Knights reached the state semifinals.

Corbett was the main man when Parkville upset then-No. 1 Walbrook in the regional semifinals, scoring 16 points and owning the glass.

"He was very assertive and was like a scoring machine, which was impressive at that stage in his career," Norris said.

Going into this season, Corbett's goal was simply earning a roster spot.

That first meant getting his health and weight back before regaining his shooting touch. He had lost 25 pounds of muscle from his 200-pound frame and is now back up to 192 pounds.

Family, friends and coaches who came to visit him in Virginia saw scratches and bruises on his barely recognizable face, along with tubes running in and out of his body. They also saw determination.

While in the coma, he would cough constantly, aware that a life support tube was crammed down his throat. Still bedridden in progressive care, he would try to slide down the bed to get out.

"My uncle, Thomas Ridgely, bought me a basketball when I was still in the coma," Corbett said. "He said he put the basketball in my hands and I was actually trying to shoot like I was in a real game. He was like, 'Josh, catch the ball.' And I would put my hands out acting like I was catching the ball."

Said Ridgely, whose wife, Josephine (Carla's sister), is the reverend at Called to Action Ministries in Baltimore: "Going to Virginia, we all just prayed. We petitioned to God to keep Joshua's life and went down there with the expectation that he would deliver us a miracle."

After returning home and acing a three-week stint at Sky Neurological Rehabilitation in Pikesville, Corbett slowly worked his way back onto the basketball court in August with the help of his teammate and close friend, Shawn Langrehr. They worked out four or five days a week for four hours at a time, starting with light running, then sprints, shooting and eventually one-on-one play.

In late August, Corbett was at Parkville for the first day of school and also playing recreation ball at Milford Mill. On Oct. 6, just a few weeks before tryouts at school, Corbett was cleared to play by Dr. George Jallo, associate professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"When the doctor cleared him to play," Carla Corbett said, "he just ran out of the doctor's office and was jumping up and down pretending to be playing basketball."

As far as regaining his form of last season, Corbett is still a work in progress. Opponents sometimes have an easy time getting by him to the basket. He occasionally struggles boxing out for a rebound. And he's no longer the dominant inside player who used to demand the ball.

He is averaging four points and has earned a few starts. He has had his moments, such as coming up with a key block late in the game in a win over Dunbar and a season-high 10 points in a victory over Loch Raven.

"It's been inconsistent," Norris said of Corbett's progress. "There's been moments of his old self, some sparks. Then I'll see times when he's either thinking too much or in a bit of a daze and mechanical with the ball instead of just playing the natural way he would go about things."

Langrehr said Corbett has been a huge inspiration to the team this season, which is 12-10 going into the regional playoffs.

"I've learned to never look back at stuff ... and that it could be you," said Corbett, who remains focused on playing in college. "That's my goal. I'm still trying to follow my dreams."

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