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Catawba Basketball: On one knee, Arrington rolls on

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — This was supposed to be the season Catawba senior Kijuan Jakeem “K.J.” Arrington was 100-percent healthy, but that’s not going to happen.
After sitting out the 2015-16 season to rehab a torn ACL, Arrington got banged up again in a freak collision in a scrimmage shortly before this season started.
The medical diagnosis is a torn meniscus, but Arrington has had his fill of surgeries and rehabs and leading cheers from the sideline. He’s made the decision to play on, and it appears that even on one knee, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound swingman can be one of the South Atlantic Conference’s best players.
He’s coming off the bench for the Indians, a role at which he excels. In Catawba’s first four games he’s averaged 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the field.
“Surgery would mean he’d miss about eight weeks,” Catawba coach Rob Perron said. “We talked about it, and he’s determined to play. And he’s playing well. He’s a warrior. I marvel at some of the things he’s doing with a meniscus tear.”
A meniscus is nowhere near as big a deal as an ACL, but it’s still a knee injury and it’s still limiting.
At least it would limit most athletes.
“I just don’t feel pain as much as most people,” Arrington said. “I played the last month of my junior season with a broken foot. I can play through a meniscus injury. I felt like I could’ve played last year, not long after the ACL surgery.”
Arrington is an interesting character.
He was a late-bloomer at Denbigh High in Newport News, Va. Denbigh is a large school with 1,500 students, and Arrington didn’t emerge as a serious college prospect until he became a starter and double-figure scorer as a senior.
After Denbigh, he went to Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Va., for the 2012-13 season. That’s where his career took off. He averaged 16.8 points and 5.5 rebounds for the PHCC Patriots and was second team all-region.
While he was a prolific junior college scorer, he wasn’t a gunner. His points came on 60-percent field goal shooting. He had a game against Pasco-Hernandez in which he shot 11-for-13 for 24 points and a game against Rockingham County Community College in which he shot 10-for-12 for 26. His career outing was a 41-point effort against Pitt County Community College.
He was as accurate on 3-pointers as he was on 2-pointers and was one of the national leaders for long-range marksmanship.
Besides filling it up on the court, Arrington made the Dean’s List. He was qualified academically to transfer to Catawba after just one season at Patrick Henry.
Former Catawba coach Jim Baker introduced Arrington as part of a seven-man signing class for the 2013-14 season. Two of the other members of that group also are still with the Indians — center Troy Warren and swingman Andrew Ingram, one of Arrington’s closest friends.
“My right-hand man,” Arrington said with a smile.
Arrington’s first season at Catawba was exciting. He averaged 14.9 points and 5.8 rebounds and was a bright spot on a team that struggled to a 7-19 record. He was Honorable Mention All-SAC. He also was clutch. He scored 25 and 28 in overtime wins against Newberry and Tusculum. He earned a nickname that he relishes — “Swish.”
He progressed in 2014-15 as a junior, Perron’s first season as head coach, shooting higher percentages, including an outstanding 42.2 percent from the 3-point line. He averaged 17.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. He was first team All-SAC and was among the elite players in a stout league.
The ACL injury came right before the start of last season — what would’ve been Arrington’s final season with the Indians.
He attacked his rehab regimen daily and made an exceptionally quick recovery.
“It was a tough process,” Arrington said. “But I got through it.”
The decision not to rush Arrington back into action last season was to be a prudent one.
Holding him out set the stage for Catawba to enjoy a banner 2016-17 season with an older and wiser Arrington returning to join junior stars Jameel Taylor and Jerrin Morrison and forming a devastating 1-2-3 offensive punch. There will be nights when all three score 20-plus points.
“I learned a lot sitting on the sideline and watching,” Arrington said. “We have plenty of scorers now, and I don’t need to score the way I did earlier in my career. I’ve taken on more of a leadership role now, more of a get-the-other-guys-open kind of role. But I’m still an aggressive guy. Fans will still see the old ‘Swish’ that they know and love.”
The thing that can’t be quantified about Arrington is the unbridled joy he brings to the locker room and to the court, even pregame warmups. He keeps things loose. He practically dances after Catawba wins and enjoys sharing victories with everyone in Goodman Gym. He brings swagger and he brings confidence to a talented team that is just starting to realize how good it can be if everyone shares the ball and the credit.
For such a young man, Arrington has a lot of mileage on him, lots of wear and tear, but he’s still a wonderful player, and he’s a reason Catawba has started 3-1. He’s a prototype small forward, but he’s tough enough and long enough to be the power forward when Catawba goes with a small, quick lineup. He also passes and handles the ball smoothly enough to play shooting guard if Perron wants to go big.
“K.J. plays multiple position and he creates mismatches,” Perron said. “He’s good in transition. He can score in bunches. He rebounds. He does a lot of positive things.”
Arrington scored 17 points in the opening win against Francis Marion. In the win against UNC Pembroke his shot was off, but he produced nine rebounds in 20 minutes. He had 18 efficient points in Saturday’s win against Belmont Abbey.
Arrington had 23 points and 13 rebounds in Catawba’s loss, a 106-98 double-overtime setback against Lenoir-Rhyne. He played 42 minutes in that one, a testament to his grit. Perron wants to limit his minutes, but there are times when he’s too good to sit down.
In both games played at Goodman Gym, Arrington has done the thing you’d least expect from a guy with a bum knee.
He’s dunked.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I do,” Arrington said. “My knee may be injured, but there’s nothing wrong with my heart. As long I’ve got my heart, I’ll keep on rolling.”
•••
Catawba plays a SAC road game tonight in Hartsville, S.C., against Coker.

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