An Interlude With Good Fortune
Jan. 26, 2000
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – For many athletes, the mere mention of the word “injury” evokes a look of horror or makes them cringe, and sad thoughts of life without sport often follow. Yet, for Virginia center Colin Ducharme, the sports world’s taboo topic always reminds him of the good fortune surrounding his own setback.
On the night of November 15, 1998, Ducharme slipped while descending a flight of wet steps, severely breaking his left ankle. An injury that forced him to miss all of last season and nearly ended his playing career, ultimately turned out to prove as a blessing in disguise. “I think getting hurt was actually one of the most significant things that has happened to my basketball career,” said the physics major. “Before I got hurt, I don’t think I was as goal-oriented with my basketball as I am now. When you have everything taken away, you definitely think about what you wanted to achieve in the first place. Getting hurt as drastically as I did, helped me come back more focused and determined.”
Unable to play, Ducharme could only watch as his teammates battled through a 14-16 season last year. For over four months, he sat helpless at the end of the bench, dressed in street clothes and wearing a cast. Finally, in late spring, he became healthy enough to once again take the floor and begin working out.
Ducharme returned home to Richmond for the summer and began a demanding work-out regimen. He intentionally lost some muscle mass, becoming less bulky and more toned, in an effort to increase his flexibility and agility. In all, he lost 15 pounds, which turned him into a sleeker, faster, and more agile player better suited for head coach Pete Gillen’s up-tempo style of play. In addition, Ducharme joined a Richmond Pro-Am summer league that featured NBA players Johnny Newman and Ben Wallace. As a member of Wallace’s team, the 6-9 center turned in some of the summer’s best performances while going up against many of the Commonwealth’s top basketball players. His new attitude and relentless workouts allowed him to quickly regain his health and return even better than ever.
“This summer I was probably playing the best I have ever played,” said the red-shirt junior. “I was really impressed and thought my hard work paid off. I worked on my game all summer, and I felt like a new person out there.”
Ducharme returned to school in the fall rejuvenated and ready to improve upon his first two seasons as a Cavalier. After earning honorable mention ACC All-Freshman Team honors his first year, he returned his sophomore year to post career highs in points (7.8 ppg) and rebounds (5.0 ppg). After missing last year, Ducharme entered the ’99-2000 season looking to continue upon the steady improvement he displayed over his first two seasons.
Yet, after starting the year’s first two games, the Richmond, Virginia native now finds himself struggling to earn playing time. Averaging less than three points per game and under 10 minutes a contest, Ducharme continues to search for his role on this year’s young, talent laden squad. Unlike last season, the once short-handed Virginia team now boasts an abundance of quality players looking to secure a spot in the rotation.
“It is just a lot different this year. Last year, they were strapped for guys and ended up overplaying people. Now, everyone is on a short leash, and it is tough to find my role because every game it could change,” said Ducharme. “The best thing to do is stay optimistic with the belief that my time is going to come. When it does, I just have to take advantage of it.”
With Virginia adding several highly-touted post-players to its lineup this season, including 6-7 forward Travis Watson, Ducharme knew he would need to establish himself early to earn a starting position. He entered the season as one of Virginia’s top performers following two solid preseason outings. Though given the opportunity to start the first two regular-season contests, nothing remained guaranteed or set in stone. Travis Watson began emerging as a true force down low, and head coach Pete Gillen started using a smaller, quicker line-up. Ducharme soon lost his starting role, and the 6-10 center/forward now felt an overwhelming desire to excel every time he took the floor. Often getting only short spurts of playing time, Ducharme admits he is guilty of trying to do too much in order to reestablish his role in the rotation.
“At the beginning of the season, it was tough because I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well in a short span of time,” said Ducharme. “I have got to relax and just play. If coach likes what he sees, he will keep me in. If not, he won’t.”
Throughout his basketball career, Colin Ducharme has almost always risen above expectations. A late bloomer, the once goofy, and rather awkward ninth-grade player quickly blossomed into one of the area’s best hoops prospects by his 10th grade year. Averaging 17 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks a game as a senior at Douglas Freeman High School, he earned first-team All-State honors from the Associated Press. After receiving a scholarship to play basketball at Virginia, he was initially slated to red-shirt his freshman year. His determination prevailed, however, as he earned a starting position his first year and served as one of Virginia’s key players. This season, Ducharme once again finds himself fighting to overcome the odds, yet unlike times in the past, he must now reestablish himself as a player who can make as solid contribution to the team.
“I have never really been faced with this situation, and it is a tough adjustment. It is hard to keep my confidence up, but I have to be optimistic,” said Ducharme, who has chosen to live on UVa’s prestigious Lawn during the 1999-2000 academic year. “If I put my head down, I will get buried at the end of the bench and will never get in the game. I always have to go in and play with confidence.”
As ACC play enters full swing, Ducharme’s size, strength, and experience should help him get back on track. One of the team’s tallest and heaviest players, he has already proven he can compete with the conference’s toughest inside players. As the eighth all-time career blocked shot leader at Virginia, Ducharme’s presence in the middle could prove vital in helping the Cavaliers achieve success during the tough ACC portion of their schedule. Those who know the Echols Scholar well know never to count him out, and there is no better time than now for the 6-10 junior to rise to the occasion and once again play beyond all expectations. “I think my time is going to come. It will be nothing new if I am thrown in the game come ACC time. I have played against all the teams, and I know all the guys,” said Ducharme. “I just have to take advantage of it, and make the best of any opportunity I get to play.”