‘The best day of my life’
Weissman’s return punctuated by opponent’s goodwill gesture
Saturday was a big day for Gettysburg men’s basketball, and a classy move by Washington College made it an even bigger one. The program honored two Centennial Conference title teams, saw a 57-year-old coaching record fall and celebrated Senior Day.
For one senior, it was even more memorable. Cory Weissman’s Senior Day included his return to the court after three years on the sidelines. He suffered a life-threatening stroke during an offseason workout and needed two weeks just to learn to walk again.
Weissman started and after Washington College won the tip, it gave the ball to Weissman to turn over so the clock would stop and he could be removed. Weissman figured his playing day was done, but it was what happened at the end of the game that was truly selfless. He was surprised to even get a chance to come back in.
"I had no idea at all," Weissman told D3sports.com. "My dream and my goal since I got back my sophomore year was just to step on the court again. I wasn’t sure if I would even have the opportunity to do that."
Gettysburg led comfortably in the final minute of the game, so Weissman returned to the floor. And after a Washington College basket with 19 seconds left, WC coach Rob Nugent called a timeout, not to unnecessarily prolong the game, but to provide one goal: foul Cory Weissman.
Two seconds later, Weissman went to the free-throw line and hit one of two, giving the Bullets an 83-67 lead in a game it won 83-69.
"I better not miss these free throws," Weissman recalled thinking as he stepped to the line. But once he missed the first, the pressure evaporated rather than intensified.
"For some reason, I don’t know what it is, I kind of just told myself that three years of hard work, after what I’ve been through, there’s no way I was going to miss it. That was one of the most confident free throws I’ve ever taken."
“On behalf of the Gettysburg College community I want to write and thank you for creating an atmosphere of outstanding sportsmanship at Washington College,” Gettysburg athletic director David Wright wrote in an email. “On Saturday, your men’s basketball coach, Rob Nugent, along with his coaching staff and student-athletes displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”
The move was not scripted, but decided by Nugent and the Shoremen staff on the fly, and will allow Weissman to graduate this year with one point in the record books. He had played in three games as a freshman in 2008-09 without scoring.
"That coach had so much class," Weissman said. "That was just an unforgettable day. It was honestly the best day of my life."
The win was the 322nd of George Petrie's career, making him Gettysburg's winningest coach. He passed Hen Bream, for whom the Bullets' gymnasium is named.
Weissman's stroke was caused by an arteriovenous malformation, the same condition experienced in 2004 by Indiana Pacer guard A.J. Price, who was fully paralyzed on the left side of his body.
"No one ever knows that that could be the last time you ever step on the floor, or play whatever sport you do," Weissman said. "The corny saying, ‘You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,’ you don’t really understand it until you go through it. I heard it growing up, but I found out first-hand. It happened to me, it could happen to everyone."
“He checked in with 50-something seconds left and my assistant was asking if we should foul him,” Nugent said. “I didn’t want to do it right away so I think we went one possession for us and one possession for them. We sent our assistant Bob Hughes down to let George know what we were doing and that was that.”
“The crowd erupted and there was not a dry eye in the place,” Wright wrote in his email. “I cannot tell you the number of people that have told me how impressed they were with how Coach Nugent and the WC team handled themselves. I might also mention that during the senior recognition at the beginning of the game, the entire WC contingent gave Corey a standing ovation and during player introductions, Coach Nugent gave him a hug.”
“I have never been more proud to be associated with the Centennial Conference and Division III of the NCAA.”
“It’s something we talk about all the time in our program,” Nugent explained. “We do the right thing because it’s the right thing no matter how it affects you.
“Everybody was enriched and had a great experience because of Cory Weissman on Saturday. He’s an inspiration to everyone from what he’s gone through in his college career.”
At one point, Weissman's goals included just being able to take part in layup lines before the game, something he was finally able to do this season. Now his goals include taking part in the career track that got him where he is today.
"I plan to go to physical therapy school," Weissman said. "I’m so interested in all of my rehab, what they were able to do to make me better. I was also influenced by my mom, who is a physical therapist. She also played a huge role in my rehab.
"I had a therapist when I was at therapy and I had a therapist when I was home. Whenever I had time off at home, when I wasn’t supposed to be working, my mom was ... critiquing the way I was walking, helping me to become better."
That gave him the last chance he needed.