MOUNT ULLA — It was March 4, 2010, and West Rowan had just lost 67-63 to Concord in a fierce 3A Western Regional game.
All the Falcons were drained, but a tall senior named Isaiah Cuthbertson felt worse than anyone.
“I’d collided with Concord’s point guard, we butted heads, and I got a bad cut that knocked me out of that game,” Cuthbertson said. “When it was over, I sat there thinking, ‘Well, that’s it. This is the end of my basketball career.’ ”
Cuthbertson didn’t play organized basketball for a year, but he found a home in the fall of 2011 at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory. Still improving every day, the 6-foot-6 forward has signed with Mars Hill of the Division II South Atlantic Conference.
“I think he’s a special kid who has been overlooked,” CVCC coach Bryan Garmroth said. “I think he can play for anyone in that league.” If you recall Cuthbertson in high school, Garmroth’s words are a shock. Cuthbertson always had height, but he was a late-bloomer. He began his junior year with West’s varsity, but that was a deep 25-4 team, and Cuthbertson went down to the jayvees at Christmas to get playing time.
His senior year, Cuthbertson averaged a modest 5.3 points for coach Mike Gurley. He produced double figures in tense NPC tournament wins against South Rowan and Statesville, but he’d figured things out way too late to attract recruiters.
“After we lost to Concord, I didn’t do anything, but then (Carson assistant) Denon Hogue talked to the AD at Catawba Valley about me,” Cuthbertson said. “I got a chance to get back in school.”
Garmroth’s first year at Catawba Valley coincided with Cuthbertson’s.
“I could see he was a coachable kid, and that he had a great work ethic and a desire to get better,” Garmroth said. “We didn’t have to teach him to run the floor. He ran like a guard.”
Cuthbertson’s freshman year at CVCC, he averaged 5.5 points, but an outing at Lenoir CC — 17 points and 16 rebounds — hinted at brighter days.
“The game I remember best was at Pitt Community College because they couldn’t box Isaiah out on our free throws,” Garmroth said. “I don’t know how Isaiah was doing it, but we kept missing one-and-ones and he just kept rebounding the ball and sticking it back in. Their guys were getting frustrated, waving their arms at the bench.”
Cuthbertson’s confidence was boosted by Garmroth prior to his second season at CVCC,
“Coach told me I had a chance to be his best post man and that he needed me to be his best post man,” Cuthbertson said.
Garmroth credits Cuthbertson.
“Isaiah did a good job in the classroom and he hit the weight room and got a lot stronger,” he said. “He’d learned how to use his body to post up and seal his man as a freshman. The jump for him as a sophomore came in scoring the ball. He got a better feel for offense, and he finished against guys bigger than him.”
Cuthbertson averaged 12.3 points and 8.3 boards last winter. He had 21 and 12 in a game at Rockingham CC.
“We lost two guys with ankle injuries and we sat another one down for personal reasons,” Garmroth said. “We asked Isaiah to step up, and he did.”
Cuthbertson, who weighs 210 well-distributed pounds, was recommended to Mars Hill by Will White, who went on to Mars Hill after two years at CVCC.
“Isaiah walked into our gym the other day and he really looks good,” Gurley said. “We’re thrilled for him and proud of how far he’s come.”
Three years after Cuthbertson thought his career was over, it’s only getting started.
“I just didn’t want to give up,” Cuthbertson said. “I love basketball too much.”