He reared back and fired off a Hail Mary pass 50 feet down the court, and his collarbone was fine.
Bishop Carroll’s boys basketball team has won 10 straight and 16 of its last 17, and Clay Cundiff is back. The Golden Eagles have been undersized all season, but Cundiff, after a long road to the lineup, is 6-foot-5 and averaging 10.4 points.
“I’ve been feeling myself,” Cundiff said.
He suffered a broken collarbone in the football regular season finale against Kapaun. After catching a swing pass to the left, Cundiff cut up field and gained about 25 yards before he was tackled.
A Kapaun defender landed on top of him, and another Crusader hopped on top. Cundiff felt a snap.
He stood up and felt each collarbone. The left side was flat. The right had a lump.
After a few more plays, Cundiff took himself out. The trainer examined him and ruled him out. Collarbone injuries typically take about 6-8 weeks to heal.
Cundiff was out for more than three months.
He had suffered a more severe injury than normal. The break wasn’t clean. Instead of snapping, it fragmented in three parts and split into hairs, Cundiff said.
Carroll went on to win the Class 5A football title without Cundiff. He couldn’t help throughout the playoffs.
On the court, he will.
“With him back with his size, he’s helping out a lot underneath,” senior Luke Evans said. “Being that big, physical presence and wearing guys down. And then also scoring the ball.”
Carroll enters the Class 5A tournament as the No. 4 seed. The Eagles get Kansas City Schlagle in the first round, a team with great dribble penetration and shooters that can heat up in a hurry.
Tyon Grant-Foster leads the Stallions. He jumps off the screen when the tape comes on.
“He reminds me a lot of Israel (Barnes) at Southeast,” Carroll coach Mike Domnick said.
Schlagle is excellent around the rim on both ends. Grant-Foster is an outstanding finisher at the basket and might be an even better shot-blocker.
Cundiff will undoubtedly help protect the rim and find ways to score around the hoop.
Cundiff came back Feb. 2 at Northwest. Carroll won that game 57-52, but maybe most impressive, Cundiff scored 15 points. He was the game’s third-leading scorer. Before that week of practice, he hadn’t gone through a basketball workout since Carroll’s 55-50 loss in the first round of last year’s state tournament.
“Basketball is a whole different shape than football,” he said. “I think it’s a lot harder to be in shape for basketball than football.”
Cundiff is a special athlete. A junior for the Eagles, he has already received four scholarship offers as a tight end. Domnick said he can only imagine how dominant he could be if basketball was his primary sport.
“He does some things in practice when he gets going where you just sit back and ‘Wow,’ ” Domnick said. “He’ll hit you with a spin move, just quicker than lightning. He’ll kick it into a gear we haven’t seen yet, and he’ll blow by people and give a no-look pass.
“He’s a point-forward.”
Cundiff said it was hard to watch from the sidelines as his teammates went through their state championship run in football. And as the basketball team started having success, he got antsy.
His eagerness to compete again came to a head during Carroll’s midseason tournament at McPherson’s Roundhouse.
Carroll unexpectedly beat Derby 76-63 in the opening round. A day later, the Eagles beat Free State, the No. 2 team in Class 6A.
Carroll’s most recent loss came that next day, a 61-51 defeat to McPherson. The Bullpups went undefeated at home this season, and Carroll led in the fourth quarter before All-State candidate Ben Pyle and the rest of the big-bodied seniors took control.
Cundiff had watched enough. He called his doctor.
“Is there any way I could come back any earlier?” Cundiff asked.
Two days later, he walked into the doctor’s office.
“You’ve got a week left,” the doctor told him.
The whole Carroll roster was galvanized after the loss.
With Cundiff only a week away and the team coming together, they went to work.
In the month that followed, Carroll beat two sub-state finalists and two state tournament qualifiers, including Heights, who the Eagles could meet in the 5A final.
Carroll has come a long way since starting the season 4-4. The Eagles are playing with confidence and now have their biggest player back on the court.
Carroll has won four state football titles. Zero state banners hang in the Eagles’ gym for boys basketball.
They believe that might change in 2018.
Cundiff said even now after rattling off a 17-5 record heading into the state tournament, teams look at them with surprise.
Evans, the lone senior on the team, said there should be no surprises. Carroll is avoiding “nobody.”
“I’ll take anybody,” Evans said. “I think we’re the best team in 5A. I don’t think anybody can beat us when we’re playing our game.
“I don’t care who you throw in front of us. I’ll play Miege. I’ll play any team from Blue Valley, from Shawnee Mission. I’ll play 1A through 6A. Give us a team from Texas. We don’t care.”