VALRICO — There was little out of the ordinary in this year's season opener for the Bloomingdale boy's basketball team.
There was Callum Townsend, now a senior, snatching a rebound from a Spoto forward and hustling down the court. The 6-foot-6 swingman peeled off to the wing, caught a pass and pulled up for another three-pointer. It's a familiar sight — one that Bulls fans have grown accustomed to during the past three years.
But March 15, 2008, almost changed everything.
It was on that day in Tampa Prep's gymnasium at a showcase for college coaches that Townsend's world was ripped apart by an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
"I've been playing basketball since I was 9 years old," Townsend said. "And all I wanted to do was get a college scholarship."
Townsend raced down the court on a fast break and felt his right knee buckle. Instead of impressing those coaches lured by his prodigious talent, Townsend sat in a heap on the hardwood, wondering what the future held.
"I had a feeling," Townsend said of the injury, "that it was pretty bad."
He was right. Townsend shredded his ACL and tore up his knee cartilage. The kid who dreamed of playing college basketball, led Hillsborough County in scoring as a junior with 27 points per game and was prepping for his senior year now had to hear the ugly truth from his doctor: Don't expect to return to the court for nine months, maybe longer.
"My face just went blank," Townsend said.
Two weeks later, Townsend had his knee reconstructed by Dr. Seth Gasser of the Florida Orthopedic Institute. Townsend almost immediately began rehab and remained close to the team while strengthening his knee over the summer, despite not being allowed to play.
"He didn't miss a single offseason game, practice or meeting," Bloomingdale coach Josh Chapin said. "The other guys saw that he was there to show the team support without being able to even step on the court."
And on Nov. 3, the first day of practice, Townsend's remarkable recovery was rewarded when doctors cleared him to play.
"It's really a credit to his personality," Chapin said. "There was no 'Why me?' "
Although his knee was mended, Townsend's confidence was far from normal. And it didn't take long to put either to the test.
At one of Bloomingdale's first practices, Townsend, who admitted to being "scared to death," had his legs cut out from underneath him. He fell hard to the court but, unlike that March day, Townsend was able to get back up and shake it off.
"I knew after that I was fine and that I could handle this," he said.
Although Townsend's presence in the Bloomingdale lineup is essential to the team's ultimate success, Chapin said being without his star over the summer allowed others to become more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
"They gained confidence because they saw they could play without him," said Chapin. "Everyone else learned how to step up."
And that has led to a 12-2 start through Tuesday, a far cry from last season's 11-13 team. Townsend's scoring average has dipped to 24.3 points per game, but he's doing so on far fewer shots than last year thanks to his supporting cast. Newsome transfer Joe Raga is averaging 15.9 points per game, and Sean Rooks and Sean Hayes are both capable of contributing.
"We're a much more diverse team now," Townsend said. "We're solid all the way around and really have no weaknesses."
The college coaches who were apprehensive during Townsend's long summer are again renewing their interest. Boston University, Jacksonville and Stetson have all expressed interest, and it's likely more will follow at season's end.
"He wants to prove to everyone that he's back to being the player he was before the injury," Chapin said.