Chris Andrews ’09, point guard on the Yale men’s basketball team, is currently sitting out the season after tearing his right ACL in August 2007. Prior to the 2006-’07 season, Andrews suffered an injury to his left ACL, which knocked him out for his sophomore campaign. Now missing his second straight year of basketball, Andrews sat down with Thomas Hsieh to reflect on his experiences and lessons learned.
You played three years on varsity at Seton Hall Prep. What was the recruiting scene like for you?
The fall of my junior year, I took an unofficial visit to American University. That was an interesting experience, and I liked the coaching staff there. They came to my school my junior year and met with my coaches and offered me a full scholarship, which was a wonderful feeling. That was when I realized I had the opportunity to play basketball in college and I knew that I was going to. That’s when the calls started picking up.
TH: And also the text messages.
CA: [Laughs] Coach [James] Jones came to my school and met with me privately and basically did a great job of selling the Yale school and basketball program. He dwelled a bit on the academic reputation and talked about the basketball program and how much better it got over the years. I was really excited about that. And he talked about the offense and how it would be good for my game and further display my skills in a way that I hadn’t in high school. I was very excited about the possibility of going to Yale. The summer AAU season began and I started to get more interest from schools. That whole time I was thinking about what Coach Jones was talking about, and I took an unofficial visit to Yale. The school was beautiful. I’ll never forget my feeling when I first saw Beinecke Library. By the end of July, I was pretty much decided that I wanted to go to Yale.
TH: It can be daunting to come in as a freshman. Did you ever feel like you didn’t belong?
CA: Well, during our first conditioning session, I passed out and was sent to Yale-New Haven Hospital. The paramedics came and I had the IV in me. I found out that college basketball was going to be a lot of hard work and was much different.
TH: After playing in all 29 games as a freshman coming off the bench, what’d you think about your development as a player, and how were you feeling?
CA: I had really high expectations throughout the whole season, and I was really hard on myself. I had a lot of confidence coming out of high school, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn’t really meet a lot of my expectations, and my confidence wavered a bit towards the end. The season is long and grueling, and it takes a toll on you.
TH: You were the man in high school, but clearly this team was going to be Eric Flato’s team. Knowing you had high expectations of yourself, how did this affect you?
CA: From the very beginning, I realized this was Flato’s team. My attitude towards that was that I was just going to try and help my team win in any way possible. There became a point where I realized that we were going to lose more than I ever lost before. There was one game where we won by a point and everyone was happy. I was just like, “We won a game. What’s the big deal?” The next game, when we lost to Nebraska, I didn’t get the same feeling when we lost than when I lost in high school. That difference in attitudes was more surprising for me.
TH: And then basically on the first day of school, you tear your ACL. What was going through your mind at that moment?
CA: I was in excruciating pain. It still is the most painful experience of my life. I was hoping I wouldn’t be out for a long time. Then I had an MRI, and the trainer called me and told me I’d be out for the season. I was definitely disappointed. I was frustrated that I had to work over the summer for what seemed like nothing. I was really upset that I wouldn’t be playing basketball.
TH: Your sophomore year was basically the first year of not playing basketball in a while. How did your injury affect your time at Yale?
CA: I became friends with a lot of people that I wouldn’t have been able to meet if I was playing basketball. I definitely got to spend more time with my suitemates and get to know them better. I got to see the social scene at Yale in different ways. I spent less time with my teammates because our schedules were so different.
TH: And in basketball?
CA: During practice I would rehab and work on getting my leg stronger before surgery. It gave me an opportunity to look at our team from an outside perspective which I didn’t have when I was playing.
TH: Let’s fast forward to this past summer. You hadn’t played in a year; new guys are coming in to challenge you for your spot; what was your outlook and motivation?
CA: I wasn’t thinking about the competition coming in and was more concerned with ways we could improve the team in the areas we had trouble with. I was more focused on making up for lost time.
TH: But again, like in 2006, you tore your ACL, except on the right side. This time, though, you tear it in August, a month before you even arrive on campus, and you’re most likely going to miss a second straight year. Where do you go from there?
CA: When I first had surgery, I wasn’t anticipating missing another year. I guess I was so naive that I would be 100 percent when I came back. I had a lot of confidence and felt like I was playing the best basketball of my life this summer. When I got hurt again, I was really frustrated and upset, but I just focused on coming back for the Ivy League season and getting us to the tournament. I definitely felt like I could help in some way, shape or form.
TH: Injuries, especially ones as severe as a torn ACL, are tough to deal with. You’ve had to deal with two of that nature. Did you ever feel like you wanted to give up and quit?
CA: There were moments. A day or two after surgery, I was just sitting in my room and thinking, “Wow, here I am again.” I was feeling awful and thinking, “Why am I doing this?” But the healthier I got, the more determined I was to play again.
TH: Now you’ve made some great progress in rehab. You’re starting to practice, but it appears that you most likely are not going to be able to play. Does this make it worse for you?
CA: That makes me want to play more rather than less. When I made the decision to play in the Ivy League, I knew I wasn’t going to be playing professional basketball. When I was working out, I told myself, “You’re going to have two more years and you’re going to make the most of it.” I took basketball for granted before because it had never been taken away from me. [The injury] made me appreciate basketball a lot more. I’m just happy to be in practice and help out my teammates.
TH: Looking back over your college career, have these injuries been a positive or a negative?
CA: I think I view myself as a completely different person than when I was hurt. There was always being a student-athlete, but I looked at myself as just a basketball player. Not having the opportunity to play basketball, I needed to focus my energy elsewhere. Basketball gave me an outlet to experience a competitive arena. Now I’m using school as that arena and saying that I want to get good grades because I want to. I’ve become more multi-dimensional and developed relationships with people that I wouldn’t have before. Playing basketball my freshman year, I was so tired and exhausted after practice that I would just go to sleep. When I got back from rehab, I wasn’t so tired, so I’d hang out in the common room and get to know my suitemates. That really helped me build strong relationships with other people.
TH: Describe Chris Andrews circa 2008.
CA: Fun to be around, outgoing. I really appreciate the opportunities that I have, try to succeed in every opportunity that I get and have a sense of urgency in everything that I do. This experience has forever altered the course of my life, and I mean that sincerely. I honestly feel like there is no amount of pain or discomfort that I can’t really deal with. It’s made me a tougher person and forced me to adapt. It’s taught me the lesson that when things happen you either adapt or die. It forced growth and I’m happy to say that over the last two years, I’ve grown as an individual. As painful as it was, I don’t regret it.