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Southern boys basketball senior Jake Koverman overcame low points to go high

Southern senior Jake Koverman suffered a severe knee injury that took away basketball, and soon after his mother was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Koverman earlier this month signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I basketball at High Point University.
Southern senior Jake Koverman suffered a severe knee injury that took away basketball, and soon after his mother was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Koverman earlier this month signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I basketball at High Point University. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

When Jake Koverman settled down to eat a celebratory dinner on Nov. 14, surrounded by those who supported him, the Southern senior’s terrible year seemed to reach a point of recovery.

A High Point, you could say, after many lows.

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“Everyone’s talking about 2020 as the year to forget,” Southern basketball coach Will Maynard said. “But for that family, it’s 2019.”

On Nov. 11, Koverman, a 6-foot-7 small forward, signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division I basketball at High Point University, approximately a year and one month after suffering an ACL tear to his right knee. Doctors informed Koverman and his father, Tony, that he would either need two years to heal or he would never play again.

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“We’ve been traveling since Jake’s been in the second, third grade. It’s been me and him all over the United States," Tony Koverman said. "Everything just flashed right before my eyes. Done.”

Tony Koverman didn’t want to surrender his son’s future to what everyone said until all options were exhausted. So the father and son sought the advice of a local doctor who said as long as Jake committed to rigorous physical therapy at home, improvement would come.

“When [Jake] heard them say that, he just took off. It was like he was possessed. It was just unreal,” Tony Koverman said.

Before fully engaging with his mission, however, Jake Koverman had to pull himself out of his own misery.

“I prayed every day. My parents helped me, always keeping my head up, keeping positive," Koverman said. "Then when I found out about my mom, I went back to thinking negative again.”

About a month after Koverman injured his knee last year, his mother, Carol, was diagnosed with B-cell Lymphoma, a form of brain cancer. The progress Koverman made toward working himself out of a dark place shattered.

His father sat him down to talk about him, his knee, his mom, life. There was enough negativity outside the family door, his father said. Inside, all he wanted to give his son was positivity.

Maynard knows Tony Koverman well because he’s coached in Anne Arundel County for a quarter-century, but also because he’s Maynard’s junior varsity assistant coach.

“I knew if he had a son, he’d have a basketball in his hand,” Maynard said. “They have a great bond, not just through basketball, but as father and son in general. For them to go through what they went through, they definitely deserve this [college commitment].”

Jake Koverman’s father brought him out of the pits, but so did his mother. The Southern forward kept a basketball in his hand. He dove all-in to his therapy. He served as a mentor on the Bulldogs’ bench last season, remaining as vocally supportive to his teammates as if he were on the court. All the while, he kept the faith.

“When I saw what my mom was going through, in my mind I was like: If she can fight through with that, I can fight through my knee with no problem,” Koverman said. “She, and God, is the main reason why I kept fighting. The way I saw her fighting, I didn’t want to give up.”

Some discouraged Koverman from playing football in his junior year because an injury there could damage his future on the court. He didn’t listen.

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“Jake really wasn’t a football player. The only reason Jake played football was because he got tired of the football team losing,” Maynard said. “His boys was playing. One of his close friends, Russell Dandridge, played. He wanted to go out there with Russell and help the team.”

Tony Koverman said 11 Division I schools came to scout his son before his injury, but they disappeared after.

By this summer, Koverman reached a point of recovery where he was able to play in the Hoop Group tournament, typically flooded with college recruiters but not so much this year due to coronavirus.

Still, Koverman, who averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds as a sophomore, acquired fresh film. His knee was healthy and his legs were stronger than before.

“Thank God, because that’s how High Point was back on board," his father said of the tournament. "Once they saw Jake was looking at High Point, the other ones started falling back in.”

Koverman nearly pulled committed to Air Force or Navy, which both courted him, until High Point coach Tubby Smith called Koverman and offered a full scholarship. Koverman committed in October.

“For him to get through what he did, it was huge. No matter if he went Division I, Division II or Division III, for somebody to have faith in him like this, you can’t ask for anything better," Tony Koverman said. "Most kids would give up. Jake’s story is don’t give up. Work hard, keep working hard and don’t let it stand in your way.”

With his college decision confirmed and his mother recovering after undergoing the last part of her yearlong treatment, things are working out for Koverman in 2020, except for one. There is currently no guarantee there will be a Southern basketball season this year.

That, Koverman will overcome, too.

“Everyone wants to play their senior year, but if we don’t I’ll just have to forget about it, work hard and get ready for college and that next level,” Koverman said. “When something happens, I forget about. I’ll still think about it but I don’t let it stay in my mind and pull me down. I’ll forget about it and keep working hard.”

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