Darling overcomes injuries, illnesses to lead team to title game
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The last 13 months has not been kind to Wright State forward Cole Darling and his family. While his mother has battled cancer, Darling has had to battle ankle and shoulder injuries.
With his mom completing cancer treatment and him being as healthy as someone in his condition can be, he has had a bit of a renaissance heading into Tuesday’s Horizon League title game.
Darling has had three 20-point performances in the last eight games after missing the Wisconsin road trip early in February.
“I think he had a reputation outside of our basketball family when he was younger of being soft, he has never been soft,” Wright State head coach Billy Donlon said. “What he has been through in his life, he has never been able to gain weight. It is hard to be a 175-pound freshman or 182-pound sophomore.”
Darling sat on the bench for the Raiders’ last appearance in the Horizon League title game last year at Valpo. Darling missed the last 10 games of last season with a shoulder injury.
“Coming off of surgery with my shoulder and getting back to playing, it took a while for me to find my groove,” Darling said. “And then something else, my foot or a concussion or something which really didn’t allow me to get into a groove offensively or defensively playing wise.”
After working all offseason to rehab his shoulder, Darling tweaked his ankle in WSU’s exhibition game on Nov. 1 versus Findlay. It was not the way any senior looking to come back from a major injury would want to start the year.
“After last year, I had that same foot problem,” Darling said. “I just retweaked it, so I was just praying it wasn’t any worse because if it was any worse, I probably wouldn’t have played this year.”
Through it all, Darling came through in a huge way Saturday with a season-high-tying 21 points in a 68-63 win over Cleveland State.
Donlon said that people will never know what kind of career Darling could have had if it were not for injuries.
“When he plays well, we are a much, much better team, you saw that on Saturday,” Donlon said. “I am really proud of him. He is not a guy who is thinking at anytime of what might have been. He just comes and punches his clock every day and that is why he is going to live a great life.”
To cap off a collegiate career with a trip to the NCAA Tournament is now the ultimate goal for Darling along with his fellow seniors, especially Matt Vest and AJ Pacher who Darling spent all four years with.
“It would be huge especially with us three being the original group that has been with coach Donlon the whole way,” Darling said. “It would be big for the program because it shows that if you stay four years with coach Donlon, you’ll definitely have a chance of being in the NCAA Tournament.”
Darling completed his bachelor’s in business in December and plans to walk with Vest and Pacher along with senior transfers Miles Dixon and Jerran Young at spring commencement.
As for Darling’s mother Deanna, she has been given a clean bill of health according to Darling.
As the Steve Wonder song goes, “Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past.”
It has been seven years since Wright State last won a Horizon League title game and gone to the NCAA Tournament. Donlon said he does not want his players to see it, but he has a few superstitions.
He said that he likely would not think about how he dresses for tonight’s title game other than wearing some pink in honor of his mother who passed away a few years ago.
“You just have your own thing but I just try to make sure the guys don’t know about it,” Donlon said. “I don’t want it to be in their heads.”
But Donlon said he is superstitious in other areas such as his hotel bookings.
“There was a hotel we were going to stay in Green Bay and the person that answered the phone had the same name of somebody who I had a relationship once,” Donlon said. “It came to me that was the name of the person and I said ‘we’re not staying there.’ It is bad karma and the bad thing, superstitiously, we won the two games staying at the other place.”
Wright State guard Miles Dixon said he does not have many superstitions or pregame habits other than praying before games.
“I tie my shoes or retie my shoes every time I get a chance,” Dixon said. “Also every time I shoot free throws, I retie my shoes.”