December 23, 2011 9:24:00 PM
The smile lights up the gym. Marcus Sims dribbles the basketball to the corner of the court and launches a 3-pointer. He moves to greet a visitor before returning to the court to join Anthony Sharp in an impromptu game of one-on-one.
Six months ago, Sims was in no shape to dribble a basketball, to elevate and to flick his wrist to shoot a jump shot.
Six months ago, Sims wasn't sure he would see another Christmas.
But "Miracle Marcus" is back.
"It is awesome," Sims said. "I thought I was done with sports as far as my high school career. Once I started to get better, I went to the gym and eased back into it. I went back to the doctor and he said there was nothing with the lungs that was prohibiting me from playing. The only thing he was worried about was my endurance. I played in two games and I felt good. The second game I played the whole game. It feels good to be back out here and try to help my team go all the way this year."
Sims has beaten the odds and been blessed with another chance to live his life -- and to play basketball -- with new-found appreciation. The Victory Christian senior swingman received medical clearance just in time to start practice with his teammates. The Eagles (1-1) played two games earlier this month, and will resume the 2011-12 season in January.
Sims said he wasn't sure his doctor would allow him to return to the court. He didn't believe anything was wrong, but he realized anything could have happened physically, especially with his lungs, to keep him off the court.
"I am just playing like I was last year," Sims said. "I don't worry about it. I just get out there and do what I need to do to help my team."
Victory Christian boys basketball coach Brent Harris also is glad to have Sims back on the court. Even though the 6-foot-3 Sims isn't back to 170 pounds and he doesn't have his game legs completely under him, Harris said Sims' return has sparked the Eagles. He said having Sims on the court has lifted the spirits of senior Nick Hairston and the rest of his teammates, and he feels Sims will work his way back to 100 percent and be a consistent contributor.
"It was definitely a Christmas present for me," Harris said. "He stepped back in like he didn't miss a beat. We talked to his mom and to his doctors and they said whatever they feel like he can do, let him do. I can't get him out. If I take him out during the game he gets mad at me."
Harris said the team practiced a week without Sims before it discovered he was going to be able to play. He said nearly everyone found out Sims was returning through social networking. He said no one told him until Sims came in one day smiling with some big news.
After watching Sims play in two games, Harris said Sims' shooting touch is still there and that he needs repetition to build his strength and endurance.
"His jumping is off a little bit" Harris said. "He was dunking the ball pretty good with two hands. Right now, he is doing good to get it with one."
Sims doesn't remember much about the pickup truck crashing into his car just after 8 p.m. June 23 on Highway 45 Alternate at Tarlton Road. The accident crushed the passenger side of the Acura 3.2 TL and left it a mangled shell.
Sims recalls the sound of the blades of the helicopter rotating to airlift him to the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where he learned he had suffered significant damage to his lungs and that several of his ribs had been cracked. He was sedated for an extended period of time as plastic surgeons repaired the damage to his face and allowed his body time to heal. Twice he had to be put on an oscillator, a system that assists patients in breathing.
Sims has scored in double digits in both of the games. Harris said Sims hasn't stopped smiling since he has been back. He intends to use his new old weapon at a variety of positions to capitalize on his outside shooting ability and his length.
"It has just been unreal thinking we weren't going to get him back and then getting him back so abruptly," Harris said. "All of them are smiling. Getting him back was a blessing."
LaShanda McCarter, Marcus' mother, initially wasn't sure if Marcus would participate in athletics in his senior year at Victory Christian. She knew he wouldn't be healthy enough or medically cleared to play quarterback for the football team. She hesitated in June when asked if Marcus would be able to play basketball, and hoped he would be back with the team for at least part of the season.
McCarter glows, too, when she talks about Marcus and what it means to him and to her to have him back out on the basketball court.
"It has been a true miracle to see Marcus out there playing," McCarter said. "It is a miracle all in itself to see Marcus even alive. It would have been OK for me if he didn't play sports at all to just see him healthy and not have anything wrong with him. It has been a true blessing for me. It is a true miracle. If people don't believe in miracles they do happen. I call Marcus my 'Miracle Marcus.' I thank God for him every day."
The opportunity to play again isn't lost on Sims. Four months ago, he talked about re-evaluating his faith after realizing God kept him from dying. He intends to make the most of his chance and follow the path God has for him.
"I think it is a blessing from God," Sims said. "First of all, still having my life here on Earth and still being able to play basketball, which is one of my favorite sports, it is a big present."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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