Wiedmer: Ex-Baylor player Luke Apfeld is Vermont leader

Wiedmer: Ex-Baylor player Luke Apfeld is Vermont leader

March 13th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Baylor School basketball coach Austin Clark doesn't spend much time worrying about what might have been.

So he even though his mind may wander back to 2006 when he sees former player Luke Apfeld start at forward tonight for Vermont against Lamar in an NCAA tournament first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, he won't wonder what might have been.

"I don't play that game," Clark said Tuesday morning when asked about Apfeld, who left after his freshman season.

"As I like to say, 'There's many a slip between the cup and the lip.' If Luke had stayed, I'm sure he would have been a great player here. But I've kept up with him and I'm so happy for him and all he's accomplished since he left."

Actually, the 6-foot-7 Apfeld left Chattanooga twice. The first time was when he was 4, and Patrick and Kristine Apfeld moved Luke, Grace and older brother Jordan to Switzerland for a few years. The second time was in 2006, when the family left its Signal Mountain home for New Hampshire and Luke enrolled at Brewster Academy.

"I still remember everything about Chattanooga and Baylor," the 21-year-old Apfeld said by cell phone from Dayton.

"I stay in touch with a lot of those guys. I've gone on vacations with them. I keep up with Jordan Clark [Austin's son] and I talk to Zane Gibson -- who's playing at Middle Tennessee now -- quite a bit, as well as several other guys. In fact, I talked to Zane just the other day."

His recent days have been taken up by stirring basketball wins, especially Vermont's weekend victory over Stony Brook that clinched the America East Conference championship.

Apfeld's dunk a week earlier with 11 seconds to play in regulation forced overtime against Hartford in a conference semifinal, which the Catamounts later won in double-overtime.

His all-around play throughout the season has caused first-year Vermont coach John Becker to remark more than once that "Luke is our best athlete. He brings energy, defense and rebounding every night."

At least he does since he recovered from the last of three ACL injuries -- two to his right knee and one to his left in in a span of 16 months from his senior year in high school through his true freshman season at Vermont.

"I thought about giving up basketball," Apfeld told CBSSports.com earlier this season. "My doctor wanted me to hang it up, that the risk after doing it three times is as high as it can be. He told my parents that my body wouldn't be able to take it if it happened again."

But he couldn't quit. Apfeld averages 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds a game, having scored a career high of 24 points earlier this season at Towson.

"I remember being able to jump off one leg really well," he said. "I can't do that anymore. Now I'm more of a two-foot guy. ... I know I'll never get that athleticism I used to have back."

But he'll always have a lot of great memories from his years in Chattanooga, especially the food.

"I remember when we were on Signal," he said, "and sometimes on weekends my parents would get to the Bread Basket and bring home some bread just out off the oven. And I still go to Shuford's for barbecue every time I'm in town. You can't get anything like that in Vermont. That's probably one of the things I miss the most is the food down there."

Actually, he said, he misses a lot of things.

"I only remember good things about Baylor and Chattanooga," he said. "Great community, great school."

That especially applies to Coach Clark.

"I'll always remember his loyalty," Apfeld said. "He always told us he'd be down in the trenches fighting with us, and he always was. That kind of loyalty is hard to find."

Apfeld said he's been fortunate to find that same loyalty at Vermont as he's battled back from his knee problems, loyalty that now has the Catamounts in the play-in game with a second-round contest against North Carolina on the horizon for Friday in Greensboro if they can turn back Lamar.

"Oh, it's been great," he said. "A charter flight to Dayton. A police escort. It's a pretty cool experience."

Almost as cool as knowing Apfeld retains such warm memories of his former Chattanooga home.