HAMPTON � When Jay McKenna looked down his bench last Friday and summoned Nick Hepburn to head to the scorer�s table and check into the game, it was a small victory in itself for Hepburn, McKenna and the entire Winnacunnet High School boys basketball program.
It had been 371 days since Hepburn, now a senior, was last on the floor in a high school basketball game.
Hepburn, an athletic and versatile 6-foot-4 player, was one of the first players off the bench at the start of his junior season.
A few games into the season he took a charge against Manchester Memorial, hit the back of his head on the floor and was diagnosed with a concussion � the second of his high school career.
Hepburn missed the next four games, which he admits�may have been�too soon,�and returned to the court last Jan. 25 for a home game against Dover. During that game against Dover, Hepburn hit the floor again, and sustained another concussion. He missed not only the rest of the basketball season, but also the baseball season where head coach Aaron Abood viewed him as a potential starter in the outfield or at first base.
Hepburn said suffering that concussion against Dover was the start of going to his �lowest.�
�I was out of school for a while and had persistent headaches,� said Hepburn before Wednesday afternoon�s practice at The Rim. �I was at my lowest. I didn�t play baseball, that spring was the worst. I missed out on a ton of stuff and not being able to do anything about it was the hardest part.
�I�d try to go for a run or go to the gym, and get back into being active, but the headaches kept coming back,� Hepburn continued. �That was the hardest part, just not being able to do anything but sit in a dark room. Lights affected me, anything that increased my heart rate was tough on my head, basically anything with lots of stimulation really affected me.�
Then, midway through last summer, all the symptoms began to go away, and thoughts of his senior year began to surface.
He joined the golf team, �was still feeling good� and wanted to give basketball another try for his senior season.
He has been practicing for a couple weeks, dressed for the Timberlane and Keene games, and was called into duty last Friday, ironically against the team he last played against.
�It was good to feel part of things again,� said Hepburn, who played just 3 minutes in that first game back. �It felt good to get back out there, and it felt a little weird at first after not playing for about a year.�
Hepburn got 6 minutes in Tuesday�s win over Salem, hitting an 8-foot jumper in the paint for his only two points of the game.
�It was awesome being back and playing at home with everyone and being part of the team,� Hepburn said. �Being able to score a bucket was kind of nice for the first time. Hopefully, there is more to come, and a lot more minutes.�
McKenna could not be happier for Hepburn�s return to the court, and that has nothing to do with basketball.
�He�s a great kid who has played a lot of basketball with these guys,� McKenna said. �They are a tight-knit group and he�s part of that. They are happy for him that he�s back, and you can see them supporting him. When he scored the other night there was a mini little eruption from the bench. They are happy for their friend, they are happy that he is feeling good, that he�s healthy and that he�s back. The kids elected him a captain and I think that speaks volumes about who he is as a person, and what he brings to our program in regards to who he is as a person, a player, and a leader.�
Make no mistake, McKenna is also very pleased to have the ability to get Hepburn out on the floor.
�He�s a really good player,� McKenna said. �He has size, athleticism. He�s highly skilled, he can play inside, he shoots it very well, he�s a good defender and he can guard all five spots. He definitely adds a great dynamic to the basketball piece as well.�
Hepburn is gaining comfort and confidence each time he steps on the floor, but the thought of another concussion lingers.
�I think I am a little weary of certain plays, and I am still a little scared at times, but I am getting there,� Hepburn said. �I think I am right about back to where I was.�
McKenna plans to monitor Hepburn and increase his minutes accordingly.
�There are no medical restrictions for him,� McKenna said. �Having not played in a year and trying and get him back into game shape is what we�re doing. We�re bringing him along slowly, and we�ll see how it goes.�