Insult from injury: Broken bone prevents athlete from hitting 1,000 points
SILVER CREEK — Of all the ways Matt Woleben’s high school basketball career could have ended, the reality is about as cruel as anyone could have imagined.
Woleben entered a game on Feb. 6 against Cassadaga Valley needing just 31 points to reach 1,000 career points, with five games remaining in the regular season. But in the second quarter of the game, Woleben went down with an injury.
“Out of all the times I’ve seen him fall down, he always gets back up,” Silver Creek head coach Ralph Jackson said. “He’s a tough kid. To see him need help off the court, I knew he was hurt.”
Woleben was hurt by what Jackson defined as a “freak injury” — so hurt, in fact, that it ended his season. Woleben broke a metatarsal bone in his right foot, which immediately ruled out the remaining games in his high school basketball career.
Unfortunately, the broken foot he suffered was far from the first time Woleben had to overcome serious physical pain.
Since he was 12, Woleben dealt with severe pain from swelling of his joints, specifically in his knees. He has undergone five surgeries on his knees, and also had multiple injections to deal with the pain and swelling. Eventually, after visiting an out-of-town specialist, Woleben learned his pain was a result of Juvenile Arthritis.
“I didn’t actually know until about a year ago, when I went up to Rochester, because that was the only rheumatologist around here,” Woleben said. “I didn’t know I had arthritis. I was dealing with the swelling and the pain – the joint pain too – I didn’t know what it was. I was just questioning everything.”
Woleben takes daily medication in the morning and at night to manage his condition. He also undergoes physical therapy multiple times a week, at times up to five days a week. Woleben claimed because the swelling was so bad, physical therapy was not always enough to make a noticeable difference. His pain was finally becoming easier to deal with shortly before he suffered the season-ending injury.
“He’s hands down the hardest working kid I’ve coached,” Jackson said. “There’s times where you want him to take it easy because of all he’s been through, and he just wouldn’t. He doesn’t know how to take it easy.”
Woleben began the game on Feb. 6 just 31 points away from becoming the eighth player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. Twice already that season, Woleben had 31 points in a game. If he hit his average, he would reach 1,000 in two games, with at least three contests to spare.
“It’s something that, obviously, we knew he was getting close. … But it’s something we didn’t talk about until he was close,” said Jackson. “Once it got to 31 away, we thought about it because he scored that many in a game before.”
But in the second quarter of the game, Woleben jumped and landed on both feet, then immediately went down in pain.
“At first, I didn’t think it was as bad as it really was. I thought it was just a sprained ankle and I’d be back in a week or two,” Woleben said. “I faced the hard reality when I tried to get up at the game to go to the locker room. I just could not put any weight on it at all. … I kind of faced the reality the night of the injury, I went through all the emotions then.”
Jackson was shell-shocked the night of the injury, with a noticeably different, subdued demeanor leading into halftime. Even more than a month later, Jackson still couldn’t believe what happened.
“I’ve watched the video over and over and I still don’t understand how he got hurt. It was such a freak injury. He jumped and landed on both feet, it was just a routine play,” Jackson said.
Silver Creek later lost the game 49-46, but the bigger loss was their senior guard. Woleben would have been the first player to score 1,000 points for Silver Creek since Dom Jamison in 2019-20.
“I was super excited. I thought it would be an honor to have my name on the wall,” Woleben said.
Matt’s brother, Brady, reached the milestone a year prior to Jamison. Brady was an assistant for Silver Creek this season and watched from the bench as his younger brother chased the milestone. Five boys basketball players have reached 1,000 points since the turn of the century at Silver Creek, led by all-time leading scorer Ryan Mangano, with 1,272 career points.
“I was rooting for him. I wanted it to happen,” Jackson said of Woleben’s pursuit of 1,000 points. “I wanted it for him just as much as he wanted it.”
Woleben would have been the first player Jackson coached his entire varsity career to reach 1,000 points.
Instead, Woleben ended his career with 972 points, which still put him firmly in the top 10 all-time boys basketball scorers at Silver Creek. In his junior season of 2021-22, Woleben scored 450 points, which ranked 10th in single season scoring in Black Knights history, dating back nearly 100 years.
Woleben would have achieved the 1,000-point milestone had he stayed healthy, but instead, the player who overcame so many obstacles just to play at all ran out of time before he could clear the final hurdle to make it back on the floor to hit the century mark.
“The day after the injury, he texted me from the doctor’s and said it’s a broken foot, he’ll be out six weeks,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what to say to him, so I tell him I’m sorry. But he told me it’s OK, that the injuries ‘just prepare me for life.’ … That’s just who Matt is.”
Woleben’s medical hurdles did not preclude him from playing multiple sports through high school, including serving as the starting quarterback on the Black Knights football team, in addition to his varsity basketball career. He also plans to play baseball this spring.
“You can’t really give up if you want to keep playing sports. I know it’s a hard thing to do, but if you really want to be great and be one of the best around, you have to work hard every single day. You have to just overcome every difficulty to do it,” Woleben said.
Jackson saw firsthand how determined Woleben was on a daily basis, from offseason workouts through multiple sports seasons.
“Even with this injury (broken foot) he didn’t want time away from the team at all. After he texted me from the doctor’s, he wasn’t even late for practice that day. Saturday mornings, he was still there coaching the youth rec. team on crutches,” Jackson said. “As soon as he’s able to, he’s right back. Every time he’s been knocked down, he comes back from it.”
Through his medical hardships, Woleben has learned, “to always keep working,” despite the cards he has been dealt. “No matter how many injuries I’ve dealt with or how many surgeries I’ve dealt with, I always came back even stronger. I believe I’m going to come back even stronger from this foot injury, as well,” Woleben said.
Woleben plans to attend St. John Fisher University next year and will try out for the basketball team.
“I hope everything happened for a reason,” Woleben said. “Hopefully, what happened now pays off in the end.”