In the past two days, two Elon University basketball players had something special happen to them on the hardwood in Alumni Gym.
One of them started most of their first two seasons. Then after suffering an injury two games into their junior season and missing the rest of the year, their playing time lessened, all the way to playing just 42 minutes in ten games this season.
Another one played two games of their sophomore season before tearing their ACL and missing over a year of basketball before returning to action this week.
Both played efficient minutes in their respective teams’ most recent games, helping to spark their teams to victory.
So, who are these people? And why are they so important?
Candace Silas: 426 days later
With 8:48 remaining in the first half of Elon women’s basketball’s 79-69 home victory over Furman University Jan. 18, Phoenix sophomore forward Candace Silas subbed into a college basketball game for the first time since Nov. 19, 2011.
On that date, the Phoenix was demolished 89-58 by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers. Elon also lost Silas to what turned out to be a torn ACL in her left leg.
426 days later, she came back into a game.
And scored three seconds later.
The crowd went wild.
“I really wasn’t paying attention,” she said. “It felt good to make it.”
She was all alone and wasn’t really sure what was happening. But junior guard Kelsey Harris found her with a pass.
“No one was around, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m wide open, I have to make this,’” Silas said.
It was the first of five field goals she made on the way to 11 points as the Phoenix walked away with its fifth-straight win, all in Southern Conference play.
Nearly every time Silas touched the ball, every time she came into or came out of the game and every time she scored or went hard for a rebound, the fans in Alumni Gym, the ones who haven’t seen her on the court in 426 days, they got loud.
Senior guard Ali Ford, who scored a game-high 21 points against Furman, had been waiting for this for a while.
“Every single day we’re in the gym, Candace is in the gym, she’s in the weight room,” she said. “She’s put in double the effort that we have for a year and a half, and to see her come out and succeed in her first game back like she did just speaks volumes not only about our team and how she plays and how she cares about the team, but about her work ethic and how she puts herself in a place to succeed.”
For head coach Charlotte Smith, it was sweet. The second-year coach had only seen Silas in three games, but she was still excited.
“I was too excited, because we’ve been watching her practice for the last couple weeks,” Smith said. “And I just know from when she was healthy before the injury just the energy she brought to the game and the passion and that she just takes this team to another level, so we’re excited to have her back."
Silas was instrumental in other ways while she was injured. And while she said it was tough for her to fit, it seems like she knew her place.
“I was excited to know that I could be there for my team in other ways on the sideline, cheering for them and helping them out in practice as much as I could,” she said.
What Silas brings, however, is not just a sentimental feeling. The six-foot forward from Richmond, Va., has a skill set the Phoenix needs. Silas snagged three rebounds (all offensive) in her nine minutes on the court. And while Smith said she is planning on limiting Silas to similar minutes, those rebounds will be huge. Once No. 55 gets going in a couple weeks, look out SoCon.
Josh Bonney: Flashes of the past
Men’s basketball senior guard Josh Bonney thought his performance Jan. 17 against Furman’s men’s team was like a flash from the past.
“It did feel like old times, it felt like high school,” he said. “It was fun for me.”
His 15 points and two assists in 21 minutes helped the Phoenix men to a key 73-59 victory Jan. 17 in Alumni Gym.
Chants rained from the student section all night:
“We love Bonney!” Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
“We love Bonney!” Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
“It just feels good,” Bonney said. “I think it speaks towards Elon’s community here. They were happy to see me get a chance to play.”
After playing in 63 games, starting 26 of them, in his first two seasons with the Phoenix, Bonney was injured in the second game of his junior season. He took a medical redshirt and came back for his redshirt junior season last year. He played in 26 games and averaged 1.5 points and 8.2 minutes per game, but really came alive in the 2012 SoCon Tournament, when he scored 13 points and seven assists in two games with then-freshman guard Austin Hamilton limited because of injury.
This season, coming in as the oldest player and only one still left over from former coach Ernie Nestor's recruiting class, his playing time was knocked off even more. Going into the Phoenix’s matchup with Furman Thursday night, he had only played 42 minutes in ten appearances in the 2012-2013 season.
So when Hamilton and fellow sophomore guard Kevin Blake were ruled out with leg injuries, Bonney was called upon, and there was not a lot of evidence to count on.
Boy, did he deliver. It was the first time he had scored in double-digits since scoring 15 points on Feb. 25, 2010, against Georgia Southern University. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 1,056 days.
But even in that, he was about the team.
“It was just good to finally be back out there,” he said. “Everything just flowed well tonight, and that was as far as the whole team was concerned. Everybody was just doing what they were coached to do and that’s what made it available for me to play well tonight.”
Junior forward Lucas Troutman sung his teammate’s praises. “That was amazing” were the first words out of his mouth.
“I knew Josh was due for a game sometime,” Troutman said. “He always impresses me. He’s probably one of my favorite point guards. As fast as he is, he has the ability to get in the lane, get inside and score at will. That’s something that’s great about him. He was able to do that a lot and it helped us out.”
Bonney was able to do that. He was effective in what he was able to do on the court, creating turnovers and disrupting things on defense while running the offense when starters junior guard Jack Isenbarger and freshman guard Tanner Samson needed a breather.
He seemed ready. And it was a bit surprising. He had shot 1-for-12 from the field prior to the game; the 5-10 Houston native shot 7-of-10 from the field against Furman.
“A lot of that is just flow,” he said. “Tonight I was able to really get into my flow while at other times it may have been more stagnant, more difficult to be effective. Tonight I had ample time to do what I think I’m good at.”
What all this means
If head coach Matt Matheny is to be believed and Hamilton’s injury has him “very concerned,” Bonney will probably be called upon more, beginning tonight against Wofford College. But whatever his role is, he’s accepted it.
“It’s all about the team. Coach says, and he’s told me this several times, ‘When things aren’t going good personally, try to help the man next to you,’” he said. “And that’s what I’ve tried to embody this year, just the attitude that I took and have had over the years. And tonight, like I said, was my time to step up and I’m just thankful I could do that and help the team. I understand how the rotation of the team works and whose role is what, and I’ve accepted that.”
And Matheny’s rooting for him.
“He and I talked a lot about his role and he accepts his role,” the head coach said. “He’s not happy with the fact he doesn’t play, nor should he be. But he’s a great kid. He has accepted his role not only as a played, but in team chemistry. Now, it’s time to play. He stepped up big. With the way he played, absolutely, it’s fun to pull for him.”
For the women’s basketball team, a 5-1 conference record at this point is a nice place to be. They’ve just got to keep working to get there.
“We know where we want to be and we know how to get there,” Silas said. “It’s just hard work and effort that we can end up being first if we put in the time and effort to get there.”
Silas was one of five Phoenix in double-figures in that victory. She adds an extra big body down low that can take pressure off of senior forward Kelsey Evans and sophomore forward Sam Coffer.
“That means teams have to watch out for more than one person and have to defend everyone,” she said.
Ford said her view of her team is completely different when Silas is on the floor.
“We’re a different team when she’s in the game,” Ford said. “We know how Candace plays, and for a year and a half, we’ve been waiting on her.”
And now, she’s back.
And, like Bonney, she just may be instrumental in leading Phoenix hoops to a new plateau: Southern Conference champions.
But just making it back on the court, whatever the circumstances, might be a championship in itself.