Tonawanda News — Nehemiah Stone had overcome so much in 2013.
His brother was killed in February. Then in August, just as he was beginning to heal and move past the tragedy, he tore the ACL in his left knee, robbing him of the majority of his final football season.
For a young man whose life revolves around sports, Stone, who leads his Lumberjacks tonight in a sectional quarterfinal showdown against Sweet Home, was devastated.
After an intense rehabilitation regimen, Stone returned to the football field to lead his Jacks to their 13th straight victory over the Tonawanda Warriors in the annual T-NT Classic in October. He was named Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive season.
When football ended, Stone turned his attention to the hardwood, preparing to help lead NT from the point guard position in an ultra-competitive Niagara Frontier League.
Things seemed to be going great for Stone and the Jacks until about mid-December.
That’s when Nehemiah Stone broke down.
“Nehemiah missed a game after his body broke out in hives due to the amount of anxiety he was under,” North Tonawanda boys basketball coach Ryan Mountain said.
As Stone and his family dealt with the aftermath of his brother’s death, and with the one-year anniversary looming — which came and went earlier this month — the 5-foot-9 point guard found it difficult to continue to portray his larger-than-life persona.
”It’s been tough,” Stone said. “I’ve tried to focus on winning on the court and basketball in general, but it was tough.”
That’s when Mountain stepped in. He took Stone aside and let his struggling senior know that the entire NT family was there for him.
”A few weeks (after Stone missed that game), he missed a practice and didn’t call anyone,” Mountain said. “He and I had a conversation. I felt he needed to understand that no matter how angry and confused you are, somebody always needs you to be there for them.”
The team needed Stone to be himself again, and, as it turns out, he needed his team just as much.
”It’s been tough but the team looks up to you so you have to learn how to lead,” Stone said. “We’re all family, and we are all there for each other.”
Despite all of the off-court distractions, Stone has turned in an outstanding season for the Jacks. He has averaged 9.4 points, a team-best five assists and 3.4 rebounds per game, and has developed a keen sense for exactly what his team needs from him depending on the game and situation.
He led the Jacks in points against Kenmore West (19), Cleveland Hill (18), Niagara Falls (17) and Lockport (23), and also became the facilitator in a number of games where NT scored over 70 points and he hovered around 10 assists.
”He can control a game with his tempo and has become more aware of situations when we need to either keep up the pace or slow it down,” Mountain said. “You see the physical toughness he has on the football field. The mental toughness comes from him having extreme confidence in himself and he’s come a long way with his emotional toughness. Obviously dealing with the issues off the court with his family and his knee, he’s able to control his emotions and show more poise in pressure situations. He leads the team.”
Mountain said since their conversation in late January, Stone has played his best basketball of the season. Stone gives the credit to his teammates. He refused to be photographed for this story without them. The Jacks are hoping their unity will help them advance in the playoffs.
”It’s just one game at a time and we have to play as a team,” Stone said. “Take care of business today and then head to Buff. State, and coach will have us prepared for anyone.”
Mountain said he is proud of Stone. He said that some are destined to succeed, while others are determined to.
”If Nehemiah attacks life and continues to compete in everything he does like he competes on the court, then he will succeed in anything he is determined to do,” Mountain said.
”No teenager should ever have to go through what Nehemiah has gone through these past 12 months,” Mountain continued. “The courage he has shown on and off the court exemplifies the warrior he is.”Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.