Junior guard Matt Popeck is back to contributing mightily for the Waynesburg men’s basketball team. Before the 2021 season, Popeck had to overcome some adversity to get back on the basketball court. Last season, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery in Waynesburg’s loss to Allegheny College during the second game of the season.
Now, Popeck is averaging 10.4 points per game, 23.7 minutes per game off the bench, and is fourth in President’s Athletic Conference with an 87 percent free-throw percentage.
Popeck knew something wasn’t right when he was in pain and his knee was swelling after the game against Allegheny.
“I could tell something serious was going on. That made me really emotional,” Popeck said. “I remember crying after that game just because I knew something was wrong.”
Popeck never had a doubt that he could play basketball again, even though others did.
“My doctors and all the professionals were being cautious, maybe saying that I shouldn’t play again,” Popeck said. “That never went through my head. Throughout the whole rehab process what was going through my head was that I’m doing this so I can play again.”
Popeck said that he was on crutches for about two months after his surgery. He couldn’t put any weight on his brace, and it was required to be on at all times..
He couldn’t start with therapy until almost a month after his surgery. It took Popeck even longer to get back on the basketball court to do any types of drills.
“I would say it was probably close to six months before I got on the court again and was able to do some lateral movement and some shooting,” Popeck said. “Some leaving my feat a little bit, some jumping, just doing basketball motions.”
Popeck states that he was surprised when his doctors cleared him to play basketball this season, since his doctor recommended that he should wait a year to play basketball again.
Popeck was thankful that he was able to play in Waynesburg’s first game of the season against Westminster.
“It was just a blessing to be able to go out and play again,” Popeck said. “When I’m hooping, there’s no feeling like it. There’s no fear going through my heart. I’m playing as hard as I can. That’s just always been my mentality.”
Head coach Tim Fusina likes what Popeck has brought to the table to help his team.
“He’s done a great job coming back,” Fusina said. “He’s had to guard different people. He’s doing a very good job of guarding the ball. He’s done a very good job of handling the ball and helping rebound.”
Popeck started as a freshman and a sophomore. He’s come off the bench in every game this season. Popeck claims that he had to get used to coming off the bench, since he’s used to starting. He doesn’t mind, however, being in that role.
“I know the circumstances that I’m coming off of are definitely challenging. I can see why I wouldn’t start,” Popeck said. “Whenever I come off the bench, it’s not bad because I kind of get to watch the game for a couple of minutes and see how the flow is going and see what’s open. See what’s working, what’s not working. Whenever I’m able to go out there, I’m able to execute.”
Popeck was supposed to be a senior this season. He was able to get a medical redshirt before the season started so he could play for two more years. Popeck took the redshirt because he wants to play basketball as much as possible.
“I love playing. I love competing,” Popeck said. “Especially at the college level, it’s a blessing that I’m able to do that, and that God gave me talents to do that. I love the game.”