It doesn’t take a soothsayer to tell that Chris Vandenberg has endured more than his share of disappointment in his life. The 6-10 center enters his senior year having played only 147 minutes through the first three years of his college career. His has been a career strife with adversity. Despite the misfortune, though, Vandenberg has not regretted a minute of his life with Cornell basketball, and as he prepares to enter this coming season, he’s as excited as he’s ever been.
“I want to make sure I get the best basketball experience I can get, and we have a lot of great guys who I really enjoy spending time with,” he said. “Even if I’m not in drills yet with the guys, it’s so great to spend the time with them and I want to make an impact as a leader my senior year as much as I can.”
While Vandenberg’s path back into the Red’s limelight remains a long one, it is nothing compared to where he’s been. After joining the Cornell squad as a blue-chipper in the fall of 2001, Vandenberg has experienced a series of hardships that seems too outrageous to be true.
Three games into his freshman season, Vandenberg dislocated his patella in practice, which knocked him out of the lineup for the rest of the season. His recovery process was complicated by a whole slew of issues, including osteoarthritis, a staph infection, scar tissue, and reinjury after reinjury.
“It’s kind of been a struggle, you’ve got to work really hard,” he said. “My sophomore year, I came back and played and had more injuries, and more problems due to the initial injury, so at the end of my sophomore year, I had a cartilage transplant. I had to take my whole junior year out and this is my senior year. I’m still kind of fighting it, it’s really tender.”
Vandenberg, however has consistently kept his spirits up, which has helped him through the toughest of times.
“It’s kind of changed my perspective on basketball a little bit,” he said. “It’s made me appreciate what I have as a player, since then I’ve viewed basketball differently on the court as well as off the court.”
Through it all, his teammates have drawn tremendous inspiration from his commitment to a full recovery and a return to the court.
“There’s so many times that he could have thrown in the towel and he never did,” said senior captain Eric Taylor. “Every man on this team has looked up to him for that. The fact that he’s still out there, he’s giving it his all and he just wants to play, we really respect and really appreciate everything that he’s been through.”
Meanwhile, Vandenberg has himself drawn strength from his teammates. And he has an idea or two for how to make the most out of this season.
“I think this year we have to keep everybody together as a team. I think in past years we’ve come into pressure situations and we’ve kind of begun to fray a little bit. Now I think we can glue together a lot better than we have in the past,” he said. “This year you know exactly what’s involved, you know the coaching staff a lot better, you know Coach [Steve] Donahue and what he expects of you, and especially knowing the rest of the league, we all know each player on each team, we know exactly their tendencies and we’re up to snuff with it.”
As the Red prepares for a run at the top of the Ivy League standings, Vandenberg has come to realize and appreciate exactly what this program has meant to him.
“I’m really happy with the guys I’m here with and I really value the time I spend my time with them, but mostly I want to make sure I’m going to be healthy later on down the road,” he said.
Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor