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Guards passionate play sparks shorthanded East Union
East Union guard Wayne Cheung splits the defense of Ripon standouts Jake McCreath and Cole Herrin, right, during a nonleague game at Dalben Center Dec. 23. - photo by HIME ROMERO

It’s February last year.

The East Union varsity boys basketball team is returning from Sonora with a 65-62 win, made possible by a 29-point fourth quarter. Junior Wayne Cheung has one of his best games to date, scoring 14 and making 4-of-5 attempts from the free-throw line.

Cheung got hot late, but with five minutes to go in the contest the relentless point guard drove to the basket and ended his season with the tearing of his anterior cruciate ligament on his left knee.

Cheung got on the fast track to recovery, having his surgery performed in early March and beginning the rigorous road to recovery any knee injury demands of an athlete. Cheung was up to the challenge, but getting on the court would not come easy.

Complete rehab, get in basketball shape and be ready to hopefully score another point in his high school career could have been a task challenging enough for Cheung. However, he wanted more. So there he was logging minutes in the Lancers season-opener Nov. 30.

The following game, Cheung was truly back, finishing in double figures in a 28-point win against Gregori. Any time Cheung spends on the court is a testament to his hard work, but more so than that, it’s probably the one thing that has helped keep second-year head coach Brett Lewis from losing it.

Lewis can’t look down his bench and study through six or seven options like the majority of the coaches in the Sac-Joaquin Section. East Union’s coaching staff outnumbers the team’s two-man crew of reserves

“Minutes are huge,” Lewis said. “We’re happy if we can get a guy to come off the bench for two or three spells a quarter. It is indescribable how huge it is to be able to give anybody a break — three minutes max — we took Brock (Swift) out of the game last night and told him to get a drink of water and he was going right back in for Alex (Del Real).

“A lot of the times, that is the break that we’re talking about.”

Whatever plague it is that has dismantled the Lancers’ ability to retain a deep team, it has magnified how special an athlete Cheung really is. He’s giving the club quality minutes each and every contest, and even though he is still adjusting to his game post-injury, each minute he plays is a direct boost of confidence to the Lancer basketball program.

“Right now I feel a little scared, because my knee is all better but my body is so timid that it’s hurting so many other parts of my body,” Cheung said of his journey. “It messes with my back, my other leg, my left calf is cramping up all the time (and) I’m twisting my ankles more easily.

“The knee is doing fine, but the body is definitely protecting it in many ways that are hurting.”

Yet, there he was, blowing by a defender baseline and pulling up a soft 8-footer for a first-quarter bucket against Weston Ranch. For those who knew his game prior to the injury, it’s obvious things have changed. But nothing has changed more than his newfound appreciation for simply being able to compete.

“It feels great because I know some people don’t even play after such a big surgery,” Cheung said. “I’m just happy to get a second chance to even play again, so I’m trying to take advantage of it as much as I can without pushing it too hard and reinjuring it. Every time I step on the court I’m just thanking God.

“I want to play as much as I can right now, because I know after high school it’s done for me.”

I know the few Lancers that are still suiting up appreciate Cheung. This group is the living image of ‘Win as a team, Lose as a team’. With four VOL losses by five-points or less, the Lancers are right there, even if it’s only seven of ‘em.

“Every single second that we play we never give up,” Cheung said of this year’s Lancers. “We’re down in players, but what can you do about it. We don’t let it affect us we just go out and play as hard as we possibly can. We just trust in each other and play as a team.

“It’s not a one-man show; it’s a total team effort.”