As the pile of bodies continued to grow on top of him, he thought he was going to die.
Nolan Harvey, a point guard for the men’s basketball team, had just hit a game-winning, three-point shot with less than a second left in overtime against Whitworth University in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament. After the ball went through the net, the largest home crowd in school history stormed the court in a frenzy.
In their excitement, spectators started to form a dog pile on top of Harvey. He began to scream for them to get off to no avail.
“Everything goes black because I can’t see anything now because everyone is on top of me,” he said. “I can’t breathe because there’s so much weight on my chest and there’s not a lot of oxygen down there. There was a small point in time when I was just like, ‘Alright, I’m OK with dying right here. This is good.’”
After everyone had finally gotten off of him, officials confirmed on video replay that the shot had counted. The Comets had just won a ticket to advance to the next round of the tournament in their last home game of the year.
Harvey, now a senior, said that moment last season has been the greatest memory of his career. For the seniors on the team that year, that was their last experience getting to play in front of a home crowd.
This year, seniors had the last home game of their career when the Comets took on Concordia on Feb. 21 on Senior Day. On this day every year, the seniors on the team have a special moment of recognition with parents and loved ones on the court before the game.
Unfortunately for Harvey, the chance to create just one more memory on the court he had played on for four years was marred by an injury that sidelined him earlier in the year.
During the team’s road game at Concordia in January, Harvey had poked the ball out of the grasp of the man he was guarding with the tips of his left hand. After the play, he noticed something was wrong.
“I just looked down and my finger was jagged and pretty messed up,” he said. “I went over to coach and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not sure what’s the deal with my hand. It doesn’t look too good.’”
He didn’t know it at the time but his middle finger was fractured during the play. Despite his injury, Harvey finished the game, playing mostly with his right hand.
A few days later, a doctor informed him he would need surgery to repair his hand. If he wanted to heal properly, the doctor said he couldn’t play for the rest of the year.
When he heard the news, he couldn’t believe it. Already playing through a torn ACL that had finally started to feel better, Harvey thought the worst was already behind him.
“Everything was going OK. I was out there competing, doing what I love,” he said. “It was kind of taken away from me. Especially in this last bit of my senior year–this last part of my career–to have that taken away, there was a small period of time where it just felt real crappy, just real alone almost. You’re just like, ‘Wow, this really sucks.’ It was a bad time.”
His teammates were shocked when they heard the injury had taken Harvey out. Matt Medell, a senior guard and one of Harvey’s closest friends on the team, said he was devastated when he found out. Head coach Terry Butterfield said he’s been sad all year because of Harvey’s injuries.
“I’m devastated for Nolan,” he said. “I think Nolan got a raw deal. First of all, he tears his ACL, which usually is a season–ending injury. He decides to brace up and suck it up through the pain and he’s sort of doing OK, and then, he turns around and fractures his finger and has to have surgery. I can’t think of a guy who’s had worse luck when it comes to basketball and has meant so much to the program as Nolan.”
Despite the injury, there was a slim chance Harvey could come back to play at least a few minutes on Senior Day. Even though he had no guarantees, he continued to work out and prepare to play the game.
“He’s in there every single day,” Medell said. “He’s still working out, keeping his legs in shape…he continues to rehab and work through (his torn ACL) just on the off chance that he’ll be back this year. He hasn’t given up on himself and he for sure hasn’t given up on the team.”
Being sidelined forced Harvey to take a more vocal route than he is used to when it comes to leadership. Instead of being out there to lead by example, he took up a role as a coach of sorts, guiding and mentoring the younger players. He said the transition from leading as a player to leading as a spectator on the sideline was the hardest part of being injured. The experience also gave him a new appreciation for the role his coaches play.
“As a player, (Butterfield) would be grilling someone hard or yelling at someone hard and I would be like, ‘Alright, he gets it, he gets it.’” Harvey said. “Now, I kind of understand because I see why he’s yelling. From the outside looking in, looking on the court, you can kind of see how good we can be. So, when people don’t perform as best as they can, you kind of understand why he expects excellence out of all of us because he’s seen it before.”
As senior day neared, Harvey said he was still hopeful he would get another chance to go make a start on his home court. Unfortunately, by the time senior day had finally arrived, his hand had still not healed enough to play. Even though he wasn’t an active player, Harvey still dressed out and warmed up with the team.
Before the game, he took the chance to slam home a few last minute dunks during lay-up drills, palming the ball solely with his right hand as he drilled it through the rim.
After the seniors got a pre-game introduction with their parents and loved ones, it was finally time for tip-off. As the game started, the emotion and importance of the day was evident as fans screamed in excitement with every play.
Even though the Comets had a clear advantage with the size and noise of the crowd, they struggled to get past Concordia’s full-court press. As the game wore on, UTD couldn’t get past the Tornados’ stifling defense, falling 96-84 to close out their season. Harvey could only watch from the sidelines as his last home game as a senior slipped away in front of his eyes.
“It was pretty sad, especially not being able to be a part of it, not really having the control over that game that I wanted to have,” he said. “That was tough.”
Despite having finished the regular season on a three-game losing streak, the team still has a seed in the ASC tournament, which starts Feb. 26. Harvey said he’ll still continue to do everything he can to get healthy and play in the tournament.
Butterfield said even though Harvey may not be able to continue to play with the team, he still knows how important he is to the team.
“Anybody that knows Nolan knows that there is not really anything that can really hold him back,” he said. “Nolan has contributed in other ways: talking to the young guys, coaching up the guys. He’s been like a second coach for us out there on the floor. Nolan’s just going to be successful in whatever endeavor he decides to take on. I just wish he could’ve played out his senior year in the way I know he could. He could’ve been a real difference maker to us in so many different ways. I sort of feel like it’s unfinished business, because he didn’t get a chance to really complete the play.”
Although his last game was derailed by injury, Harvey said he was still grateful for the experiences he has had on the floor at UTD.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I really appreciate everything this university and the student body has done. They’ve made it an awesome experience for me playing here.”