Sheldon Jeter admits that sitting out the first 11 games of the basketball season with a broken bone in his left hand was tough. He said he has never had to endure something so difficult in his life.
"No, never, and I was not prepared for it. I didn't know how to handle it," said Jeter, a 6-foot-7 junior forward for Beaver Falls and one of the top underclassmen in the WPIAL. "I went through every emotion. I was depressed, angry, sad, happy ... everything."
These days he is particularly happy because he is back playing for the Tigers.
He scored 24 points against rival Blackhawk in his season debut two weeks ago and had 24 points and 15 rebounds in a game at rival Aliquippa last week. He led Beaver Falls with 14 points in a victory at Quaker Valley this past Friday.
Without Jeter, Beaver Falls was a good basketball team, compiling a 6-5 overall record against stiff competition. With him, the Tigers have to be considered a contender for the WPIAL Class AA championship. They have won four in a row and are 6-0 in Section 6-AA .
And Beaver Falls should only get better as Jeter gets into playing shape and re-introduces himself to his teammates.
"I'd say I'm about 75 percent," Jeter said when asked where he thought he was in terms of playing ability. "I wasn't able to lift [weights] so I lost some conditioning that way."
He also didn't run through any drills with his teammates while he had the cast on his hand and wrist. Beaver Falls coach Doug Biega said he didn't want to risk Jeter tripping and landing on his left hand, which could have put Jeter out for the entire season.
"I'd say he's probably 75 to 80 percent right now," Biega said after the Aliquippa game. "His first game back [against Blackhawk] was an aberration because he just got hot shooting the ball and didn't miss.
"What did he have tonight [against Aliquippa]? Twenty-four points and 15 rebounds and he played putrid. That tells you something."
Beaver Falls still had nice size when Jeter was on the bench with 6-6 junior Royce Watson and 6-3 senior Devin Cook. But a front line of Watson, Cook and Jeter is outstanding, especially in Class AA.
Plus, Biega believes Jeter's time on the bench was a good learning experience.
"He sat on the sidelines and listened to us yell at his teammates for doing certain things," Biega said. "His posture on defense is different. Sheldon is a tall guy, so he would stand straight up and down, but after hearing us yell at Royce and some of the other guys ... now he knows how it should look.
"He's gotten a coach's viewpoint of things. His dad [Carliss] is a coach and very active with us, and Sheldon was on my hip the entire time he was out. I think it all will benefit him."
Biega praised team trainer Richie Fennell for getting Jeter ready to play as quickly as he did and keeping Jeter fit when he couldn't play or practice.
"He put Sheldon through Rocky Balboa workouts. Sheldon was doing everything he could be doing his left-hand use aside," Biega said.
It shouldn't take long for Jeter to meld with his teammates. The Tigers were hardly smooth in the victory at Aliquippa, but Biega isn't worried.
"You have to remember that we played a month of games without him, so the other guys are going to have to get used to him, too. There isn't that continuity on either end from him or from the rest of the guys," he said.
"But I don't think it will take more than a couple of weeks [for the transition to be complete]. After all, he's been playing with those other guys all his life."
Jeter averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game last season for the Tiger but was worn down by the end of the season and didn't play particularly well in the playoffs. That probably won't happen this season.
One reason is he didn't start playing until earlier this month. Another is that he's stronger this year, adding about 10 pounds to his body. And a third is that he played a lot of AAU games in the summer.
Against Aliquippa, Jeter played better as the game progressed. In the fourth quarter he twice drove the baseline for dunks.
Admittedly, the Quips do not have anyone this season to matchup with Jeter. So it wasn't as if he was dunking over Herb Pope. But as Biega said when asked about Jeter's aggressiveness on the two plays, "That's not a bad sign."