OGDEN — Weber State basketball players arrived at the Dee Events Center as spectators to the program’s second Alumni Classic in August 2017, taking their seats early in the night’s festivities.
One thing stood out above all others: Junior guard Cody John stiffly shuffling around in a large back brace that wrapped around his torso and had a piece extend to the back of his head.
It was only the beginning of a prolonged journey that took John away from the court, finally returning Nov. 6, 2018.
John played in 64 games in his first two seasons at Weber State, logging 17 minutes per game as a true freshman in 2015-16 when WSU qualified for the NCAA Tournament. He started 28 games as a sophomore.
But the back injury that landed him in a brace only got worse.
Thinking he was healed enough to play, John made a move in a practice and “felt something snap.” He fractured his L4 vertebrae in his lower back.
“The doctor said there’s no promises I’d ever play again, so there was some doubt,” John said.
John’s injury was one of the factors of a thin 2017-18 rotation for a Wildcats team that finished third in the Big Sky but was one-and-done in a second-round conference tournament exit. WSU declined invitations to postseason tournaments, citing team health.
All he could do was watch the team wear down — but he did watch.
“He was at every practice, he was engaged with our team, he tried to help on the bench and when you stay engaged like that, it helped him get through it a little easier,” head coach Randy Rahe said. “He was always on the court helping guys and and that helped him get through the season, because it wasn’t easy.”
Rahe described John as a ball-is-life kind of player, which meant there was more to deal with than physical injury.
“Watching him was tough,” senior center Zach Braxton said. “When you get something taken away like that … Cody was real low last year.”
John said he thought about his family — especially his son, who is now 2 — to get through the lost season.
“My son motivates me every time I see him to keep going, never stop, never give up. So when he gets older, I can tell him the same thing, never give up,” John said.
Working through that low has produced career-high results 15 games into this season, which is still his junior campaign. John is scoring 15.9 points per game, fourth best in the Big Sky, after averaging 7.7 as a sophomore. He shoots 48.6 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3, both career bests.
Rahe compared John’s rehab to that of Damian Lillard, who broke his foot early in his junior season.
“You’re motivated to take advantage of every minute you have on the court and that’s really carried over for Cody,” Rahe said. “He worked so hard to get his body back in shape, his game back in shape. You can see the fruits of his labor because he’s been as consistent a player as we’ve had all season. I’m really happy for him because he worked so hard and cares so much.”
In his return to the court, John scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting and played a staggering 37 minutes in this season’s opener at San Diego. He not only looked like he never left but looked better than ever, noticeably quicker with a stronger ability to get to the rim and finish.
John and fellow junior Jerrick Harding (21.1 points per game) constitute the league’s most potent backcourt and could well do for another 45 games or so together.
Will John’s comeback help Weber State reach the NCAA Tournament like he experienced his freshman year? John said his team needs to be more consistent in involving each other by moving the ball.
“This team is one of the better teams I’ve played on,” he said.
“We just have to stay together and play as a team, and keep that chemistry going. Once we figure that out consistently, every night, we could be very good. We just have to keep believing in each other and keep pushing each other.”