Neuhaus receives standing ovation, looks forward to rest of season
By Mike Ramczyk
A winter storm warning featuring heavy snow, low visibility and slick road conditions grounded most basketball action in southeast Wisconsin Friday night.
But the Catholic Central High School administration moved its boys varsity basketball up to 6 p.m. to attempt to beat the snow, and Racine Prairie made the trek for a Metro Classic Conference showdown.
The faster, more athletic Hawks were in control most of the game, beating the Toppers, 75-50, thanks in part to 25 points from 6-foot-5 wing JC Butler.
While the Toppers trailed late in the game, Catholic Central head coach Kyle Scott cleared the bench with the team down by 20 points.
In came 6-foot-2 senior guard Austin Neuhaus, and a mostly-silent crowd rose to its feet for a standing ovation.
His minutes were modest, as he played the final 75 seconds. Neuhaus brought up the ball to start the
offense on one possession, and he even dished a nice pass down low that would’ve been an assist had Charles Robinson’s shot not rimmed out.
Suddenly, the stats and the score didn’t matter.
The Topper faithful knew it was witnessing something truly momentous.
A New Year’s crash
It was the first time Neuhaus stepped foot in a game since a car accident on Jan. 1, 2016 nearly took his life.
Driving with two friends, Neuhaus hit a patch of ice, and his pickup truck went off the road and into a tree.
Neuhaus was rushed to the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with a broken C-2 vertebra, a broken leg and a broken jaw, as well as bleeding in his brain.
His year-long journey back to basketball is complete, as Neuhaus had his neck brace and crutches gone by the summer.
He was recently medically cleared to play, and he was required to practice seven times before he could participate in a game.
“I was eligible today,” Neuhaus said Friday night. “I had full clearance. I was doing all the drills except for scrimmaging. There’s fusion in my neck, so it had to fuse enough to withstand a blow to the back of the head.”
“Now it’s strong enough so I can go back to sports. It was pretty nice to get a feel for the floor again, and be out there with my teammates.”
Neuhaus has a permanent titanium plate in his leg, and his neck isn’t the same.
The senior acknowledged he won’t be playing with reckless abandon like he once did, but he’s blessed to be back on the court.
“I used to dive on the floor and do whatever I could to get the ball,” he said. “I don’t necessarily have to be careful, but I can’t put myself in a situation where I can get a really big blow to the back of the head.”
“No matter what, I’m not going to change my game, but it will be going through my mind.”
Neuhaus, who said Coach Scott is like a second father to him, trusts his coach to ease him back into the rotation.
“Coach cares about me,” Neuhaus said. “He wanted to get me back out there. I wanted to do whatever I could out there. I just went out there and played basketball.”
Scott said he wanted to get Neuhaus back in the game flow.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Scott said. “He’s been great. It’s good to see him back. It’s been a long road.”
A learning experience
Neuhaus has been loud and encouraging from the bench during the last year.
He said he’s done his best to help his teammates, and it’s been a learning experience.
“It was a nice learning experience for leadership,” Neuhaus said. “I could watch everything going on, and it helped me be more patient. Even if I have a somewhat-open three now, I can pass or look for a better shot. It’s helped watching instead of playing.”
Neuhaus has somewhat returned to normalcy.
His leg was healed in the summer, and his neck is pain-free. He wears an ankle brace to feel safe, but there isn’t pain.
“I feel normal,” Neuhaus said. “I don’t know if I ever will not think about the accident, just because of how bad it was.”
“I feel 100 percent when I’m playing. I just have to make sure I get my shot back and my rhythm.”
Neuhaus said he wants to get back to being a role player and getting minutes in the game. His goal is to play in games again.
Teammate Sam McKinney, who was in the wreck with Neuhaus, also is back on the court.
He played eight minutes Friday night.
“It’s nice to see him out there, since I got him into that situation,” Neuhaus said.
Catholic Central dropped to 1-5 on the season, as Frank Koehnke led the way with 19 points.
John Pum and Cole Pankau each added 10 points.