This article appears in the January/February 2006 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Forces seem to have conspired to keep Villa Angela-St. Joseph wing David Lighty under wraps throughout his high school hoop career.
Some have succeeded temporarily. Others have failed immediately. But he's kept his head up through it all and now Lighty is coming unleashed as a senior.
Lighty, a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder who averaged 24.5 points, 12 rebounds and six assists per game as a junior, thought he was coming unleashed when he lifted off for a monster dunk in the third quarter of last year's Division III Lakeland District final against St. Peter Chanel. With the score tied, Lighty's jam gave the Vikings the lead for good and sent the overflow crowd at Lakeland Community College into hysterics.
Lighty had a trademark game — 18 points, 11 boards and seven dimes — as VASJ advanced to the regional tournament with the win. It was an effort that made it clear why Lighty earned scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Syracuse and his eventual school of choice, Ohio State. An effort that made it clear why he entered his senior season rated the nation's No. 30 recruit in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com.
Only four wins stood between the Vikings and their first state title in a decade. Then Lighty woke up — literally.
"He called me the next morning," says Vikings coach Dave Wojciechowski. "I don't think he'd even gotten out of bed yet. He told me, ‘Coach, I've got a coconut on my knee.'"
Coming unleashed had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in Lighty's right knee.
The injury wasn't confirmed until the day of VASJ's regional semifinal game. And even then Lighty didn't believe it. He wanted a second opinion, but the news was the same. Torn ACL. By then, the Vikings had been eliminated in the Canton Regional finals and Lighty was robbed of a chance to shine on the state's biggest stage by an injury he didn't remember suffering.
Eventually, Lighty and Wojciechowski concluded it had been the dunk. Coming back to earth caused Lighty's right leg to buckle and he collapsed backward onto the hardwood. But he jumped up and sprinted back on defense without a hint of pain. No pain as the team huddled between the third and fourth quarters. No pain after the celebration on the floor and no pain as he fell asleep. Only a coconut on his knee when he awoke.
"I guess adrenaline carried me through the game, but even after that it never hurt too badly," says Lighty, whose family calls him Tank. "I didn't know what it was, but I thought if I took a few days off I'd be ready for regionals."
Lighty ended up taking seven months off from basketball. But he hardly took seven months off. Rehab was a seven-days-a-week test of strength and will that he emerged from with 30 additional pounds of muscle on his frame. Now, more than 10 months after suffering the injury, the only difference Lighty notices is his developed post game.
The torn ligament was the most recent — and most difficult — obstacle Lighty has had to fight through, but it was hardly the first.
As a freshman, Lighty's parents requested Wojciechowski keep their son off varsity so he could adjust to high school ball on junior varsity. Lighty knew his parents had good intentions, but he wanted to play varsity. All Wojciechowski could offer Lighty's folks was his word that David wouldn't be overwhelmed by the competition.
"I told them, ‘Trust me, he's going to be a star,'" says Wojciechowski, who was finally able to convince Lighty's parents to let him play varsity. "I think they knew he was good, they just didn't know how good he was compared to everyone else."
Wojciechowski has been convinced of that star potential ever since he saw Lighty play CYO ball as a seventh-grader.
"He was a lanky kid in goggles at that point, but it was clear by the way he handled the ball and the way he knew the game that he could be special," Wojciechowski says.
An injury to another VASJ player forced Lighty into the starting lineup on opening day of his freshman season and he proved he belonged right away. He played nearly the entire game in his debut, recording eight points, six rebounds and four assists. But the stat sheet isn't what told Wojciechowski he made the right decision.
"As a freshman, he was better than anyone on our team, and even the older kids were looking to get him the ball," Wojciechowski says. "He quietly assumed that leadership role, probably without even realizing it, and the ball has gravitated to him ever since."
Lighty averaged 16 points and six boards per game as a freshman and showed plenty of flashes of the explosiveness that was to come. But a bout with mononucleosis kept Lighty from the true breakout season most expected as a sophomore.
With only a day of rest between playing in the football state title game as a wide receiver and his first day of hoop practice, Lighty's body wore down. He missed about a month of the season with mono and wasn't fully healthy for another month after that. He still managed to average 19 points and nine rebounds per game for the season and decided to give up the pigskin for good, much to the chagrin of football recruiters from LSU and Oklahoma.
A fully rested Lighty led the Vikings to a 22-3 mark as a junior. But this time, in addition to the injury, he was overshadowed by O.J. Mayo, who led Cincinnati's North College Hill to the Division III state title and became the first sophomore since LeBron James in 2001 to be named Ohio Mr. Basketball.
Even Lighty's decision to commit to Ohio State has taken a back seat to the Buckeyes' signing of Lawrence North (Indianapolis, Ind.) center Greg Oden, the nation's top-rated senior.
But a team-first attitude has Lighty poised to steal some of the spotlight this year. He entered the season with just a few goals, most notably win the state championship and average eight assists per game. That's right. Lighty's only statistical goal as a senior is to dish out eight helpers each night. Forget Clark Kellogg's school record of 51 points in a single game.
"Since I'm playing point guard this season, I have to distribute the ball and get everyone involved," Lighty says. "That's something I've always liked doing anyway. When my teammates are playing well, I feed off that."
Sounds like a guy who's ready to be unleashed.