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St. Joe's Molock a profile in inner strength

Kyle Molock's once-promising basketball career has been derailed by knee injuries, but he is moving ahead in other areas.

Kyle Molock works out in the gym to keep sharp, even though his college playing career is over.
Kyle Molock works out in the gym to keep sharp, even though his college playing career is over.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

KYLE MOLOCK, just 16 days after his 17th birthday, was in Anaheim, Calif., a long, productive summer of AAU ball down to one final tournament. He had been playing up one age group. He had committed to Purdue the previous fall. He was about to head back to his home in suburban Columbus, Ohio, to gear up for his junior year of high school, his basketball future jammed with possibilities as the winter of 2011 beckoned.

So why exactly was Kyle Molock, 4 1/2 years later and now 21, seated on a winter's day in what used to be the press room at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse before it became Hagan Arena on the Saint Joseph's University campus? And why exactly was he talking about what he used to be able to do on a basketball court and what he will be doing with the rest of his life?

"I kind of had the same naïve dream everybody had,'' Molock said. "I was a pretty highly recruited player, so obviously I imagined myself going to high Division I basketball and playing professionally after that, whether it be the NBA or overseas.''

He played in the Ohio State practice facility against Trey Burke, Jared Sullinger and Mike Conley. He held his own.

"Me and Trey were pretty much rivals coming up,'' Molock said.

A year apart, the two point guards played against each other in team camps, summer leagues, open gyms and during the high school season. Burke was the national player of the year in 2013 when Michigan played Louisville for the national championship. Molock was the player who might have been.

It all changed during that one game on July 27, 2010.

"It was very early in the game," Molock remembered. "I think I had gotten a defensive rebound and turned around to go up the court, going full speed. At the same time, I was making a move to get open and I kind of got pushed in the back. That caused me to get off balance while I was changing directions. I planted down and there was instability."

He knew "your knee is not supposed to do that."

He "blew out pretty much every ligament in my left knee," starting with the ACL. All the "CLs" were damaged.

He did not play his junior year. Purdue still needed a future point guard. Player and school agreed on a "mutual parting."

"They were protecting themselves," Molock said. "The dynamics of the situation changed and I wanted to make sure it was in my interest to go to a school I was comfortable with."

Molock recovered completely from the surgery and has never had another problem with his left knee. The surgeon, however, had some ominous news. He looked at Molock's other knee and told them "it feels a little loose," Kyle's father, Karl, remembered.

Still, Kyle believed his game would come back. And it did.

"If you saw me play my senior year, I was very athletic, very aggressive, didn't change how I played at all," he said.

The tapes, available on YouTube, tell his basketball story. He saw the game through older eyes. And he was explosive.

St. Joe's assistant Mark Bass had seen Molock as a freshman. In fact, Molock thinks St. Joe's was the first school to offer him a scholarship. Providentially, Molock had grown up in Wilmington before his family moved to Dublin, Ohio. He knew the Big 5. He watched the 2003-04 SJU team with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West.

SJU coach Phil Martelli saw Molock in July 2011 at an AAU game in West Virginia, a few months before his senior season.

"He literally would not have beaten me in a race up and down the court," Martelli said. "I said, 'I feel sorry, but no, he's not on the list.' "

In September, Molock's high school coach sent a YouTube clip of Molock in an open gym to St. Joe's and several other schools. It was a revelation.

"I was thinking this guy is trying to pull a fast one on us," Martelli said. "I said to Mark Bass, 'Put me on a plane, I'm going out there for the next workout.' I went out there and my jaw is on the floor watching this kid move around the floor, shooting, playing. There's like three or four schools there. I wait until the end, offer him a scholarship, find out the connection with Wilmington."

Molock signed with St. Joe's in November 2011. He was putting up big numbers early in his senior season. After eight games, he was averaging 19 points and might have been in play for Ohio's Mr. Basketball, an award won by Burke and Sullinger the previous 2 years.

"The father is a wonderful man, he's calling us every night," Martelli said. "Then, he calls the office and leaves a message and there is something in his voice and I'm saying, 'Damn.' "

It was Jan. 3, 2012.

"I was playing defense against one of our rivals and I went to plant and my right leg gave out," Molock said. "I pretty much knew what it was because I'd already had the injury. I surprisingly wasn't that upset because I clearly have loose ligaments. I did [in] the other knee. I should be fine because I didn't have any problems with the first one."

It was "just" the ACL this time.

The very definition of optimism is a teenager saying to himself: "I'm disappointed I didn't get to finish out my senior season, but at least I got this knee out of the way before college."

Molock arrived on the St. Joe's campus in the summer of 2012. Physically, he felt fine. He had done the rehab again. He was cleared to play on July 1. His game had come back again. Martelli was thinking Molock might be his starting point guard.

A few weeks into workouts, Molock went up for "a pretty routine dunk." When he planted to go up, his right leg went out again, the ACL torn again.

"The biggest thing has been a shock because when you're young and you've never had a serious injury, there is no way to predict that,'' Molock said. "When you're trying to picture your life in 2 or 3 years, you really don't account for the possibility that you might not be playing basketball. It's always kind of in the back of my head, if I didn't have any injuries and just progressed like a normal kid, what would my ceiling have been or where would I be right now.''

He missed his junior season of high school and most of his senior season. His freshman season in college was over before it began.

"You want to be a good teammate and you're happy for your teammates, they're your friends, but at the same time that's nothing compared to how you used to feel playing," Molock said.

Right now, Kyle Molock is a "student assistant" at St. Joe's. He tried to play last season, but, after the third surgery, that right knee never felt right.

"It really wasn't me playing basketball out there," Molock said. "That was the most frustrating thing. I knew what I could do. I was doing things as a sophomore in high school that I couldn't imagine doing now."

The athleticism was gone, the explosion gone, the game gone. Kyle Molock's sophomore season at St. Joe's, his college career, consisted of 28 minutes over eight games. He missed his only shot. He made two of three free throws. He had one assist. He had six turnovers. He scored two college points.

On Jan. 15, 2014 against Duquesne, just as his team was about to make its run to the Atlantic 10 championship, Kyle Molock tore his right ACL again. He had surgery again. He had played basketball for the last time.

"He put that passion in rehabbing and coming back," Karl Molock said. "He was always looking for the next challenge, but after four knee surgeries it's pretty tough.''

The basketball door shut, Kyle Molock, an accounting major, has opened another. This summer, he will be working in a Center City office. He has an internship with PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers), one of the Big 4 accounting firms. He will graduate in the spring of 2016.

"We'll be watching film and he'll be over on one of the couches doing homework, on a Friday night," Martelli said.

If Molock is bitter, he hides it well. He talks about his injuries dispassionately. Coaches always tell their players "next play" when something goes wrong. For Kyle Molock, it's just the next stage of life.

"I don't know anybody who could have handled a situation like this as well as he has," Karl said. "He has taken that competitiveness from the court into other aspects of his life in the classroom and looking forward to his professional future in business."

Molock helps other players with their games, but almost never picks up a ball just to pick up a ball.

"I just don't see a purpose, really," he said. "I'm not playing anymore. I'm taking a pretty difficult course load. It doesn't benefit me risking possibly getting hurt again."

He doesn't see himself playing at the Y in 5 or 10 years. When he could play, he played for the competition. He didn't play casually. He was good friends with Syracuse's Trevor Cooney growing up in Wilmington. They had talked about playing together in high school before Molock moved to Ohio. He played when the good players in Columbus got together. That was appealing.

"I think LeBron would rather go against Kobe Bryant than a high school player," Molock said. "It's actually a challenge and it means something to beat them. When you're playing people you know you can beat with your eyes closed, the challenge is out of it and it's just not fun."

Kyle Molock can close his eyes and remember his game. His eyes are wide-open now. The rest of his life is out there to be lived.