By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Branden Meier is where he wants to be.
The Chisholm senior, an Oklahoma Bible Academy transfer who waited more than a year for the chance to play, was starting at point guard for the Longhorns in their home opener against Blackwell.
The Dec. 4 tilt against the undefeated Maroons already was important for an early-season game, and for Meier, his first home start was set to be a memorable one for another reason.
Meier, who had started growing a beard before the season, was told by some classmates he should take the look a step further, letting the beard grow and shaving the sides of his head to mimic former Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden.
Meier was on board. Harden had been one of his favorite members of the Thunder before being traded to the Houston Rockets, and if Meier played along, the Longhorn student section would complete the evening, making up shirts and chants.
By game time, the idea clearly had circulated throughout the student body. Dozens in the crowd wore teal shirts emblazoned with “The Beard” in large, super-hero-esque lettering, and those students who couldn’t provide natural beards wore false ones.
Meier, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound water spider on wood navigates the floor in a way that only furthers the likeness to Harden — save for his jumper, a push shot that ironically bears more resemblance to Harden’s Oklahoma City replacement, Kevin Martin.
As Meier frees himself from a Blackwell defender and lets fly a three, hitting bottom, the already energized crowd becomes raucous.
“Three pointer by ‘The Beeeard,’ Branden Meier!” booms announcer John Peter, Chisholm’s student section chanting in kind, “Fear the beard, fear-fear the beard!”
It’s a surreal scene for Meier, who scored 10 points in a 60-39 loss that felt closer.
He is where he wants to be, where he’s waited to be.
And now it’s over.
Ten days after the opening-night hysteria, Meier went up for a layup against Kingfisher, landing awkwardly on his left knee.
“It didn’t really hurt that bad,” Meier said Sunday at a team shootaround, the sides of his hair already grown back and his left knee wrapped in a heavy black brace. “I tried to get up and keep playing. I went ahead and sat out the rest of the game, but I thought I’d just sprained my knee.”
The initial thought was the injury wasn’t too serious, one that could easily be healed by the end of winter break. Further evaluation proved otherwise.
“It’s a torn ACL,” Meier said. “I’ll be having surgery on Jan. 17.”
The updated diagnosis means Meier’s season, and effectively his high school basketball career, the one he’d waited for a season on the bench and sparingly in junior varsity games, is over.
“I just had to sit there and think about it,” Meier said. “It took a while for it to set in, then I had to tell (Chisholm) coach (Cody Spurlock) that I was done. I know everything happens for a reason, but it was tough to take … This was my year, and I was pumped and ready to go. That made it that much harder.”
Then it got easier.
Meier, a player with a mind sharp enough to enter his final semester with 3.86 grade point average and aspirations of an engineering degree in the future, didn’t lose his eye for the game, and his desire to be with his team wasn’t diminished from the injury.
“He doesn’t even have to be here, but he was the first one here,” Spurlock said during the Sunday shootaround. “He wants to be here just as much as anybody else does. He just knows that he can’t (play), but he’s still a leader on this ballclub.”
Perhaps now more than before.
Chisholm (3-5) will feel the loss of arguably its best player. Meier averaged 10 points on 48 percent shooting before his injury, adding four rebounds, three steals and four assists against just two turnovers per game.
But Spurlock found another way for his injured senior to contribute, refusing to let Meier be relegated to a cheerleader on the Longhorn bench.
“His role now is just like an assistant coach,” Spurlock said. “He sees things differently than I do. He can focus more on the point guard aspect, and he knows the offense as well as anyone else, and if he thinks a play’s not working, he’s got free rein to throw out a different offense, he can holler at me and tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s a lot different, but I get along with all of my teammates really well, and coach and I have a good time just talking, and I can give him some ideas,” Meier said. “Since I was actually playing to start the year, I can tell him things I see and give kind of a different look.”
Meier will make another home debut — this time as an amateur member of the Longhorns’ coaching staff — when Chisholm hosts 89er West foe Fairview at 8 tonight. The Yellowjackets, 0-2 in conference play to Chisholm’s 0-3, present a chance for the improved Longhorns to pull within a win of last year’s total.
“We still have a long way to go,” Spurlock said. “A lot of these guys haven’t played with each other. We’ve only played eight games, so they’re still learning how to play with each other, who fills what roles, how those roles will be filled. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go to our ultimate goal of advancing far into the playoffs.”