Ventura's Jon McMurry is a study in perseverance

VENTURA -- It was Dec. 12, 2009, Jon McMurry remembers the day well.

He was on the basketball court, practicing alongside his Ventura High teammates. It was one of those typical Saturday afternoon scrimmages, nothing too out of the ordinary.

Then, all of a sudden, McMurry ran into a teammate, seemingly at full speed. He went down hard, to be sure, much harder than normal. Things immediately became not so ordinary.

He was lying face down on the hardwood, writhing in pain with a left knee injury, far more serious than anyone could have possibly imagined at the time.

The scenario plays over and over in his mind. It is difficult to forget.

The road to recovery has been long and arduous. McMurry, however, has successfully battled back and will be in uniform for the Cougars on Saturday when they face Mission Viejo in the Southern Section Division 2AA championship game at the Anaheim Convention Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:45 p.m.

“I went through a rough time, for a while, it seemed like forever. My future was uncertain, I thought playing basketball again might not ever happen, '' McMurry said. “Right after my injury, I was in a wheelchair for four months and on crutches for five or six more months. The rehab was tough, my knee is still weak, painful. That wasn't going to stop from coming back.''

Rest assured, having McMurry in the lineup against the second-seeded Diablos (29-1) is a must if top-seeded Ventura (28-2) hopes to bring the title home.

Considering all of the damage that was initially done, it is difficult to believe he actually made a return to the rotation for the Cougars. McMurry did, after all, dislocate his kneecap less than two years ago during his junior season. Making matters worse, he tore his medial collateral ligament, partially tore his anterior cruciate ligament and broke the lateral condyle of his femur.

“It's a bad, bad memory, Jon's injury was as bad as any I've seen in all of my many years,'' Ventura coach Dan Larson said. “The pain he was in, getting the emergency people out here to our gym as quickly as possible and trying to keep him calm. After he hit the floor, one of our assistant coaches was holding what was left of his knee together. It was completely destroyed.

“We've had some bad ones here, but Jon's situation was one of the top five bad injuries of all time at the school. It was just a terribly bad knee injury, it was just gruesome.''

As one can imagine, the initial prognosis was not particularly favorable, and the rehabilitation process seemed never-ending.

All the while, McMurry remained focused. He had no other choice. It was either heal up in a hurry or watch from the end of the bench during his senior season.

Accordingly, McMurry worked diligently toward building the necessary strength in his knee to play without the threat of causing additional problems.

“To see how far Jon has come, it's amazing,'' Ventura assistant coach Felix Cortez said. “He has done some incredible things. There's no quit in the kid, I can tell you that.''

McMurry's perseverance paid off, of course, earlier this season when he made his long-awaited return. Nearly one year later after sustaining the injury, on Dec. 1, he checked into a tournament game against Camarillo and finished with nine points in the 82-46 victory.

McMurry has been a mainstay in the game plan for the Cougars ever since. The 6-foot-5 senior forward is averaging a respectable 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Truth be told, there is no need to put up flashy numbers on a nightly basis, not with teammates such as Dylan Houck and Jared Wilson around. Nick Rudolph and Corey Quintana are capable contributors as well. Zach Gwin and Josh Tice also play prominent roles.

“McMurry, first of all, is a good player,'' Larson said. “He comes in and does a good job of shooting and rebounding. He doesn't quite have the mobility he had before his injury, but he can still put the ball on the floor get by most people. He has great basketball instincts.

“Jon has had a lot of support along the way. His teammates pushed him around in a wheelchair, helped him with his crutches and carried his books to class. Jon is a unique personality, a very special person. I think the guys knew how good he was on the court and what a good person he was off the court, they wanted to get him back in action for his senior year.

“Jon gives us a mental toughness because the kids have seen the lengths he's gone through to get back, the extra effort it took for him not to just perform well, but to perform at all. He's been an inspiration. In an odd way, it's helped our team work even harder.''

And to think, there was a time, not too ago in fact, when it was thought McMurry might not ever have the opportunity to set foot on the court again.

Things figure to come full circle Saturday afternoon.

“At first, when you here about a knee injury, what went through my mind was that I would be out three or four months, I wasn't really sure, I didn't know,'' McMurry said. “The more news I got, the worse it got. It was depressing and frustrating, all of the above. I was a lot more optimistic than I should have been. I really didn't know how sever the injury was.

“It was grueling, the cracking of my knee, the pain when the doctors screwed my bones back together, you could just feel it. I kept pushing through though. It was tough, but every time I would just put my head down and and think: Do I want to be out there with my teammates doing well or do I want to be sitting and watching? That put things in perspective.''

Apparently so.

Given the extenuating circumstances, he could have easily taken the easy way out and not attempted a recovery from what some considered a career-threatening injury. McMurry decided against that idea though and has made rather remarkable comeback as a result.

Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.