Burger discusses return from injury

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Jasper’s Caleb Burger (21) handles the ball Tuesday while being guarded by Isaac Higgs of Evansville Reitz (33). It was Burger’s first game since the Dec. 4 opener at Linton-Stockton, when he went down to injury. Burger scored nine points in Tuesday’s losing effort, 79-60.


JASPER — In all of his years playing basketball, Caleb Burger never suffered an injury on the court, until Dec. 4 at Linton-Stockton.

“When I went for that layup — when I got that and-one, I smashed my face on the ground and the dude kind of landed on my hand and bent it backwards,” the Jasper senior said. “After that, I couldn’t really tell until after I sat on the bench, and it was pretty swollen for about two weeks there.”

Burger described the experience as “pretty painful.” Him going down to injury meant that the Wildcats lost one of their elder statesmen — and that they lost their most experienced player for the time being. He was forced to watch the Wildcats lose to the Miners, 58-56, in overtime that night, and 60-53 against Loogootee the next night.

He knows how badly he wants to be out there because it’s his senior season, but he still tried his best to show leadership and relay things to his teammates — even if it was on the team bench and not out on the floor. Burger asked them be confident when they played, and to stay strong when things didn’t go their way.

“I felt like they listened well,” he said. “We had some bad breaks in those games where we kind of let it slip away, but they kept their heads high, and weren’t able to get the win but they played tough and hard, and that’s what I told them to do.”

So, does Jasper beat Linton-Stockton and/or Loogootee if Burger didn’t go down to injury?

“It certainly didn’t help,” Jasper coach John Goebel said. “We certainly could’ve used his leadership and experience in those end-of-the-game situations because of end of game situations, especially at the varsity level in high school basketball, is a completely different part of the game.

“It’s a completely different mindset,” Goebel continued. “You can’t afford to make silly mistakes, and turnovers and bad decisions. And you have to be able to knock down shots and knock down free throws and take care of the ball. The only way to learn how to do those things is to actually practice those things, and Caleb was the only one…who had been in that spot before.”

Meanwhile, the injury brought on a difficult recovery process. Burger couldn’t shoot the basketball and had to watch his teammates practice without him. The team couldn’t play or practice for two weeks in December due to school activities being shut down. Jasper returned to practice Dec. 28, and only then was Burger able to rejoin the team. He was medically cleared shortly before the first practice back.

“I kind of viewed the game in a different perspective than I did before, as far as sharing the ball with others and all the other stuff,” Burger said.

Burger still had a couple of fingers taped on his hand when he spoke to the Herald on Wednesday — saying that they’ll likely be that way for the rest of the season. It’s become more difficult for him to dribble, but he has no problems shooting the basketball. His right hand is his dominant hand, so he worked on getting stronger and dribbling with his left hand.

He returned to live competition Tuesday night in the team’s 79-60 loss to Evansville Reitz. Burger felt everybody, himself included, was excited to be back because the whole team missed two weeks in addition to him missing four games.

Burger scored nine points in the losing effort, but because he hadn’t suffered a basketball injury before, he had to learn the motion of the game again and get back into the swing of things. He likened it to being a freshman.

“After that first quarter, I think I got myself in a good position to get in the flow of the game, and I felt pretty good after that,” he said.

Goebel noted some of the positives that Burger showed in his first action in more than a month.

“Caleb did a lot of the little things we need him to do,” the 14th-year Wildcats coach said. “He’s a good defender, he directs people on the floor, he provides leadership, he shot the ball decently and he does a nice job of getting the ball in the paint, getting himself to the foul line — which helps us, too. He’s not as sharp as he was last year and earlier this year because of the time that we’ve been out with COVID and because of the time that he’s out with his injury, but he’s coming back.”

The Wildcats are in a tough spot at the moment, and will try to reverse course beginning on Saturday when they host Evansville North. Jasper will try to turn things around as it sits on a 1-4 record at the moment. Goebel noted that the Wildcats have lost to some good teams, but they’ve lost nonetheless, and it doesn’t feel good.

There may be some toughness issues, but the lack of experience outside of Burger is a main thing. They’re having to learn on the go, and Goebel noted it won’t be easier these next couple of weeks.

Jasper will get a look at a North team that is currently 6-2, and just had its four-game win streak snapped on Tuesday. Goebel knows that Burger will have to play a pivotal role to come away with the victory on Saturday.

“We expect him, just he likes he expects himself, probably, to have his best game,” Goebel said. “If we’re having any chance to beating North, it’s going to be the entire team working together. Obviously, Caleb is a really important part of that team.”

“I know we’ll be ready to play against them, and they got a good ball team, but I think if we play liked we practiced today, we’ll have a good chance,” Burger said Wednesday.

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