VALPARAISO | Just ten games into the season and Cory Johnson has already had enough injuries this year to fill up a career.
The Valparaiso senior needed stitches to close a cut on his head suffered in the season opener. Johnson bit through his bottom lip while diving for a loose ball in Las Vegas and has been sporting a pair of black eyes while playing on a pair of sprained ankles all year.
Oh, and then there is that bout of plantar fasciitis that has made the simple task of walking a chore.
With each passing injury, Johnson laces his shoes up a little tighter and digs a little deeper so he can contribute in his final season with the Crusaders.
"I'm trying to tell myself that I'm not really hurt anymore," Johnson said. "I've got, like, two and a half or three months of college basketball left. I'm just trying to go out there and have fun."
Johnson's naivety towards his injuries isn't a case of running away from the pain, but more an acceptance that as long as he is putting on a uniform, ailments are going to follow him.
"Yeah, I'm injured, but there is no sense in worrying about it," Johnson said. "I'm going to play regardless, so I might as well just ignore it."
The elephant in the room when it comes to Johnson is that the 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward has all of the skills to play at a level when he gets rewarded with paychecks instead of free room and board. The stitches and scars will go away, but plantar fasciitis can derail an entire season if not treated properly. While Johnson's case isn't as severe as that of former Valparaiso point guard Ali Berdiel, who missed an entire season due to plantar fasciitis, the pain still lingers.
"Thinking about any of these injuries is not going to help," Johnson said. "This is my last chance to really enjoy college basketball and to make any tournament. That is my focus right now. I'll have a whole different set of things to explore after I'm done playing this year."
It is that type of selfless behavior that endears Johnson to Valparaiso coach Homer Drew. The fact that the senior is willing to risk his own health for the better of the team is something that Drew believes will pay off for Johnson after he graduates.
"It speaks volumes about him playing at the next level," Drew said. "The pro people are looking for players who can play through injuries. Once you're a pro player, you're never really 100 percent health wise at any time."
While Johnson is sporting a nice scar below his lip, his black eyes have faded and it's time to move forward to a tough contest against IPFW this afternoon. The Crusaders had a week off for final exams after a surprising overtime loss to previously winless Toledo last Saturday.
"We've got to move forward from that game and I think we have," Johnson said. "That's the great thing about basketball. There is always the next play and always the next game."