Men’s basketball player hits the hardwood for first time since tumor
THE SANTA CLARA
February 5, 2015
Though the Broncos lost to the Brigham Young Cougars 78-57 last Saturday, they also attained a huge victory. Senior Andrew Papenfus made his return to the court for the first time since having surgery on a brain tumor that was discovered last June.
The former walk-on came in for the game’s last four minutes and immediately felt validated after all he had been through.
“It felt amazing to finally step back out on to the court and put a sense of closure to this entire process,” said Papenfus.
The discovery of the brain tumor was completely out of the blue.
“I was demonstrating a drill and I just went down, had a seizure and then went to hospital,” Papenfus said.
After some scans, the doctors located a golf ball-sized tumor on the left side of his brain. An emergency surgery brought some much-needed good news -— the tumor was not cancerous. But it would have to go.
“Based on the prognosis, I had time,” Papenfus said.
But Dr. Mitch Berger, his neurosurgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, warned him of the possible consequences — waiting to undergo surgery could cost him years of his life, but getting the tumor removed right away could cost him his senior season.
“I had a good offseason,” Papenfus said. “I was projected to play a good amount of minutes, especially for a walk-on.”
He admitted that this made it a tough decision.
Because the tumor was on the left side of his brain, it affected the whole right side of his body. And surgery could jeopardize his use of that side — and his basketball career.
Papenfus decided one year of basketball was not worth years of his life.
After months of recovery, he was cleared to start practicing with the team on Jan. 7 and with four minutes left in Saturday’s game against BYU, Papenfus’ dream of playing in his senior season was realized.
Head Coach Kerry Keating gave him the option: Play there, or make his debut back at Santa Clara, in front of the home crowd. He chose to go for it.
“Who knows when the next chance is going to be,” Papenfus said. “Finally getting to run up and down the court was a remarkable experience.”
His freshman teammate Kai Healy agreed.
“It was really special to see him out on the court again after everything he’d been through,” Healy said. “Seeing the culmination of the months of preparation — it was just a special moment for everyone.”
Keating shared in Healy’s emotions and was glad that Papenfus made a comeback.
“I was very excited for him and very happy that we were able to help him get to that point,” Keating said.
It was not easy for Papenfus to get back onto the court. He was thankful for everyone who helped him through it — especially his team.
He said that the support from the Santa Clara community was “unreal.”
Though the team felt elated about his return, the Broncos still lost their last two games, after shooting to third place in the West Coast Conference.
Against BYU, the Broncos cut the Cougars’ lead to just five until an 18-0 run — six straight threes — busted the game open.
Jared Brownridge led the team with 16 points and Brandon Clark chipped in with 11. The loss moves Santa Clara down to 11-12 overall.
But neither Keating nor Papenfus have lost sight of the true goal: making it to the NCAA tournament.
“My focus is to help the team win – whatever I can do, whether it is on the bench or on the floor … as long as the team is winning,” Papenfus said.
The Broncos host No. 2 Gonzaga University tonight and the team’s spirits will be lifted.
“(Gonzaga’s) having a great season, it’s going to require good effort,” Keating said. “Our focus will be high … we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The players are zoned in to the upcoming challenge as well.
“It’s just going to be a crazy game and a crazy atmosphere,” said Healy. “I know that we’re all excited.”
The team faces off against Gonzaga tonight at 8 p.m.
Contact Alli Kleppe at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.