During the regular season finale at Pepperdine, with less than five minutes left in the game, Alex Barcello got a steal and was fouled attempting a breakaway shot. The junior fell so hard that Jake Toolson got off the bench to help his teammate, but was ejected for entering the playing court.
There didn’t seem to be any major repercussions of that singular event; Barcello got back up and continued playing for a few more minutes, Toolson was not subject to suspension and both were able to play in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal game against Saint Mary’s.
But there was more to that story.
It turns out that Barcello broke his left scaphoid bone, one of the carpal bones of the wrist, on his fall. As he was falling, Barcello tried to use his hands to catch himself, but he got caught under the net a bit and fell at an angle.
“I felt it in my wrist when I got up, but I was initially thinking of my head when I fell because that was what my initial pain was,” Barcello said. “When I got up, I started shaking off my wrist and it was fine because my adrenaline was up throughout the entire game. Once I got subbed at, when we got a good enough lead, I started feeling it a little bit more.”
After subbing out, Barcello walked over to athletic trainer Robert Ramos, who immediately put some ice on the injury. On the flight back to Utah that night, Ramos initially believed it might be a severe sprain, but after getting it checked out the next day found out about the fracture.
Barcello would need surgery to put in a screw and the recovery period would take six weeks, but the junior guard talked to his coaches and trainers. What if he put off surgery and continued playing while injured?
The worst thing that would happen is that the fracture could extend a bit more, but otherwise there was no real issue with putting off the surgery for the time being. And the Cougars still had plenty to try to accomplish (winning the WCC Tournament and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament) with the postseason starting up soon.
“I just thought that sometimes you have to sacrifice things for the betterment of the team,” Barcello said. “I talked to coach Pope and we had a heart to heart. I told him there’s nothing that’s going to stop me from finishing the year with this team. We’ve given everything we have to this team.”
Barcello’s injury was just the latest in what was an injury-filled season for the Cougars.
Zac Seljaas broke his foot in August during an exhibition game in Italy, underwent surgery and returned in time for the season opener. TJ Haws underwent a minor knee procedure and took some time off prior to the season. Gavin Baxter tore his labrum during a preseason practice, underwent surgery and missed the first 25 games before he made his season debut.
Then there was Jesse Wade who had a previous knee issue flare up during preseason that prevented him from playing at all this year.
Once the season started, Connor Harding and Kolby Lee had some knee issues, Trevin Knell had a finger injury and Yoeli Childs missed four games due to an open dislocation of his right index finger.
Even Jake Toolson suffered a gnarly ankle sprain when the Cougars hosted Saint Mary's, but checked back into the game a few minutes later after being evaluated in the locker room and getting his ankle wrapped.
Even with a deluge of injuries, the Cougars weren’t slowed down.
“That was one of the things that stuck out to me about this year’s team,” Barcello said. “No doubt in my mind, I didn’t care what my options were, I knew I was telling coach Pope I was going to finish out the year with the team. … We wanted to accomplish this thing together.”
With his wrist securely wrapped, Barcello continued to practice and play. While the staff and team was aware, the information of Barcello’s injury was kept under wraps in hopes of opponents not finding out and changing up their scouting reports.
“We didn't want to have that on a scout, like 'you've got to force him left because he can't use his left hand,'” Barcello said. “But I think my teammates and I did a pretty good job of not making it noticeable.”
Come the WCC Tournament, before the postseason was cut short, Barcello had to change up his game. He couldn't use his left hand much and had to be cautious catching hard passes. A look at his stats during the WCC semis shows a decrease in offensive performance, only scoring three points, made two rebounds and one assist.
Yet, Barcello still played 33 minutes. He may not have filled up a stat sheet, but he decided to focus on the defensive end to try to stop the Gaels, specifically Jordan Ford.
“I play with what the game gives me and how the flow of the game is, so I don’t try to force anything,” Barcello said. “That was just the flow of the game. That was our game plan – we needed to lock up Jordan and that was my job. I needed to do that as well as being efficient on the offensive end. I mean, I didn’t get as many shots as my minutes say I should have, but that’s what the game gave me.”
After the team got back from Vegas following a tough 51-50 loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC semis, things took another turn.
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declares COVID-19 a pandemic. That night, two Utah Jazz players tested positive for the novel coronavirus, forcing the NBA to suspend the season.
The next day, the NCAA canceled March Madness and all other winter and spring sports championships. Schools around the country quickly followed suit, cancelling their own seasons.
So, with no more games to play, Barcello decided to have surgery. And it came at the right time because hospitals started cancelling and avoiding non-emergent surgeries as the focus centered around the coronavirus.
“Thankfully, I was in a soft cast for two weeks after the surgery, took it off after two weeks and now it's feeling great,” Barcello said. “I'm able to dribble, shoot. I'm even able to do band workouts and push-ups with a closed fist. I'm getting back pretty quick, I feel like. And Rob said I'm right on pace to be 100%.”
And if Barcello ever finds himself in a similar situation and has to use his left hand to catch himself from a fall, he shouldn't have an issue with it.
“The doctor said I won't ever break that bone again because there's screw in it,” Barcello said.
Barcello transferred to BYU after playing two seasons at Arizona and was granted eligibility in October, allowing the guard to play immediately rather than sitting out a season. In his first season as a Cougar, Barcello averaged 9.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and .9 steals.
Looking back at his time in Provo, Barcello feels like he had the best season he could have hoped for, even if it did end with a bit of a bump and too soon.
“Honestly, I would probably describe it as a movie because me and all the guys on the team because in such a short timespan, we formed such great relationships and, I think, lifelong friendships,” Barcello said. “We were having fun playing the game that we loved.”