Despite injury-riddled career, Neal making most of senior basketball season

BROWNSTOWN — Bryce Neal was in the weight room ahead of the football sectional last fall doing incline bench.

As he brought the bar down, he felt his left arm pop.

It wasn’t anything Neal wasn’t used to. Multiple times throughout the football season, he felt his arm pop out of socket, but he’d pop it back in and keep playing.

But in that moment on the incline bench, Neal knew something was wrong and that he’d have to get it checked out after the season.

When he went to the doctors, it was discovered his left labrum was “completely obliterated.” Neal had two options — try to play his senior basketball season or get surgery and be out six months.

Neal contemplated the decision one night, went to sleep, and when he woke up, his arm was out of socket once again from just sleeping. He knew then he wouldn’t be able to take the hardwood this year.

He had surgery Dec. 19 and is about halfway through his rehab process.

“It was terrible,” Neal said when the realization hit.

But Neal compartmentalized the frustration of not being able to play and turned his focus to being there for his teammates. As one of the three seniors along with Jakob Arthur and Carson Darlage, who both play valuable minutes, Neal has become the team’s hype man.

“I really try to keep their nerves down because I know it can be tough before a big game,” Neal said. “I don’t want them to feel that. If they’re nervous, they won’t play as good, so I try to keep morale high. If anyone is feeling down, I try to talk to them about it.”

Neal also is known for dancing around the locker room before games, trying to get guys energized.

“It’s really cool. He’s always on the bench, he’s there always doing celebrations and in the locker room before the games, he’s dancing around getting everyone hyped up,” Darlage said of his senior companion. “It’s great to see him still around even though he wasn’t able to play this year.”

Head coach Dave Benter has appreciated the attitude Neal has brought to the team throughout this season.

“He’s a guy who keeps our guys loose. Bryce has got a real laid-back and fun personality. He has been great to have around,” Benter said. “He has got a good basketball mind, he’s good to have around in practice and he’s very serious and competitive but also a good guy to have in the locker room.”

Benter recalls watching Neal play basketball in eighth grade and called him “one of the best eighth-graders I’ve ever coached in 25 years.”

Benter said the Braves coaching staff had high hopes for Neal, but injuries have plagued his career beyond this senior season.

Right before he got to high school, Neal tore his meniscus, and it forced him to miss football and basketball seasons his freshman year.

His sophomore season, Neal tore his other labrum on the right side during football season, and it forced him to miss basketball season.

“He got hurt those freshman and sophomore years, which is just tough not only physically but mentally,” Benter said.

As the injuries piled up, Neal feels like he has gotten better at dealing with it.

“I think it has gotten easier since I’ve gotten older. When I got hurt as a freshman and sophomore, it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around being hurt and not being able to be out there and doing what you love,” he said. “But when you get older, you start to understand that stuff happens for a reason, and you can’t do much about it.”

Missing three of his four basketball seasons, it also makes Neal appreciate playing during his junior season.

The Braves won a sectional championship last year and were in a tight game against Beech Grove in the regional championship.

“That was a lot of fun,” Neal said. “I wish we could’ve made it farther. I think we could’ve, but stuff happens. I think the team we had last year was really good.”

Neal also has fond memories of his years with the Braves football team. He only missed his freshman season on the gridiron but was able to be a key player for Brownstown in his next three seasons.

“Football was probably some of the most fun I’ve had in my life,” Neal said. “Just the brotherhood you build with the guys. There’s really nothing that beats Friday nights out on that field.”

When Neal graduates from BCHS this year, he plans to attend Ball State University and study architecture.

But first, he’s just as focused on Brownstown’s postseason run as the players and coaches are.

The Braves are currently 23-4 this season with a Mid-Southern Conference championship, sectional championship and regional championship to show for it.

Neal has been on the sideline for each game, got to cut down the nets at sectional and regional and hopes the team can cut down some more nets Saturday at the Southport Semistate.

“I think everyone is feeling great. I think they’re really excited,” Neal said. “I wish I could be out there, but it has been fun hanging out with the guys. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”