By Dylan Butler
It wasn’t the Senior Night Gary DeBerry envisioned.
“I actually saw myself scoring another career high,” he said. “I just pictured things being good.”
Instead DeBerry sat on the end of the Queens College men’s basketball team’s bench, as he has for every home game since December, when the shooting guard went down with a season-ending ankle injury for a second consecutive year.
His biggest contribution came in the Knights locker room when he addressed the team after a 70-59 loss to New York Tech Saturday night that knocked Queens out of a New York Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament berth for the first time in eight years.
“He always has something to say to us before and after the game,” teammate John Sikiric said of DeBerry. “That just shows how much of a leader he was. If he was (healthy) I don’t think we’d be in this position right now.”
DeBerry was relatively injury-free through a successful high school career at Holy Cross. As a senior, the 6-foot-2 guard from St. Albans averaged 18 points per game and was named first team All-Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan as a senior.
After missing four games with a sprained right ankle as a freshman, DeBerry averaged 9.6 points per game as a sophomore and 14.9 points as a junior as Queens earned back-to-back NCAA Division II tournament bids, including an automatic bid after winning the NYCAC tournament championship in 2001-02.
DeBerry was en route to his best season to date last year, averaging 17.3 points per game through the opening four games of the year and scoring 22 points in a four-point win at New Haven.
But it was in that game that DeBerry suffered a freak ankle injury. Subsequent x-rays showed several fractures in his ankle and foot, and what looked to be a promising season came to a crashing end.
After a long and grueling rehabilitation, DeBerry was set to return for his fifth and final season — he redshirted what would have been his senior year in 2002-03 — but then DeBerry injured his left ankle in a preseason scrimmage on Nov. 4.
“I went up for a dunk and a guy grabbed me and we both landed awkwardly on my left ankle. The way I felt, I felt like the foot was gone completely,” DeBerry said. “I couldn’t walk. It was the most pain I felt.”
Afterward, doctors would tell DeBerry he was overcompensating with his left ankle when he injured his right ankle against New Haven Nov. 25 and discovered he had a cyst and multiple fractures in both ankles.
“I had to tune it out of my head because I was not about to sit out another year after I just did that,” DeBerry said. “I was ready to come back, be a leader the way I know how and make another run at it. But I just didn’t have that extra lift, the extra energy.”
He had to sit and watch his teammates struggle through a nine-game losing streak, then win five in a row only to miss out on a NYCAC tournament berth on the final day of the regular season.
DeBerry even thought of playing through the pain midway through the Knights’ nine-game losing streak, but doctors said he could possibly affect his ability to walk if he played on his two injured ankles.
“I’m going to be honest, it’s been tough because of my competitive nature,” DeBerry said of sitting on the bench. “There were a lot of long nights, a lot of frustration, a lot of things got broken around the house. It’s been tough.”
Eventually denial gave way to acceptance and DeBerry started to embrace his new role on the team, as an additional coach for younger players such as freshmen Marvin Lawrence and Bradd Wierzbicki.
“Gary’s probably the biggest guy I look up to on this team. He’s been through everything. He’s gone through everything I’m going through now,” said sophomore forward Shaun Bertin. “He can tell me what to expect and what I need to do as a player because he’s done it. I look up to him so much he doesn’t even know.”
He’s even worked with Erin White, a sophomore guard on the Queens women’s team who has increased her points per game average from 9.0 as a freshman to 10.6 this season, and helped her accept her role of one of the go-to players on the team.
“Early on I was very hesitant shooting and he was always the one who told me that I had to just go out and play,” White said. “He said, ‘take a shot if it’s there. If you miss, you miss, but you have to keep going.’ I think he definitely helped me take that step up this year.”
After leading Queens through its most successful stretch in school history, DeBerry is looking to continue playing basketball.
Following what he hopes will be a speedy and successful rehabilitation after surgery, DeBerry said he would like to test the waters oversees, possibly following in the footsteps of Steven Hale. The former Archbishop Molloy big man played professionally in France.
If not, the accounting major will look for a job at a firm and maybe try his hand at coaching. But whatever DeBerry does, Queens coach Kyrk Peponakis is sure of the outcome.
“He’ll be a very productive person in whatever he does,” he said. “I’m very happy I had the opportunity to meet him and coach him and keep this relationship, because he’s what it’s all about. He’s got it. He understands.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.