WACO, Texas — Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua knows how special it is just getting back on the court for 14th-ranked Baylor nearly a full year after a gruesome knee injury that many people thought would end his career.
The big man for the Bears is a testament to an unwavering spiritual faith and hard work.
"You didn't know if he would ever walk, run, let alone play basketball," Bears coach Scott Drew said. "But one thing about Jon is his timetable is a little different than everyone else's. And his work ethic is a little bit different. ... And I know God's blessed him with allowing him to be able to recover."
There were 51 weeks that passed after Tchamwa Tchatchoua crumbled to the court with multiple torn ligaments in his left knee on a non-contact injury at home against Texas last Feb. 12, until the 6-foot-8 forward's return for the Bears (17-6, 6-4 Big 12) on Saturday with eight points and four rebounds in 14 minutes against Texas Tech. They are home again Wednesday against Oklahoma.
"Me even stepping on the floor, playing the game that I love, is just a miracle in itself," Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. "I see myself as a walking miracle, as proof that the Lord can affect your life in a better way."
The forward from Cameroon earned the nickname "Everyday Jon" for his constant high-energy approach in games and practices since arriving in Waco nearly four years ago. He remained a significant presence around the Bears even when unable to play after having surgery twice to repair different ligaments.
"He's our best leader, and now to have him back out there with us, it's everything," forward Jalen Bridges said. "He's the heart of our team."
A few days after the injury, Drew saw Tchamwa Tchatchoua on the practice court taking shots — while sitting in a chair with a brace on his leg.
In a tweet the day he got hurt, Tchamwa Tchatchoua thanked the Baylor family for their love and prayers, and added, "All my trust is in GOD so I know everything is going to be ok!"
When he got up from the bench Saturday and made his way to the scorer's table, fans in the Ferrell Center broke into a raucous standing ovation. It got so loud that he didn't even hear his name being announced.
Tchamwa Tchatchoua had been practicing with the team and had already taken part in pregame warmups a few times before finally getting clearance from doctors last week to return to game action. It was then up to him, and the more he prayed the more confident and excited he got about playing again.
"At the end of the day, nobody would expect me to be the same player, and I had some mental battles," he said. "In a way, I was thinking maybe I'm not good enough because I was comparing myself to my old self and maybe I'm a different player. But at the end of the day, I came back from a really bad injury and I'm using the grace to help me, and it took me such much time to embrace that."
As optimistic as Drew is about pretty much everything, the coach never really expected Tchamwa Tchatchoua to play this season. Drew described himself as "blown away and amazed" when the big post started doing more and more in November and December.
Asked what his plan is now, Tchamwa Tchatchoua responded without hesitation, "Win more games."
While listed as a senior, he still has another season of eligibility remaining after this because of the 2019-20 season, when Baylor was set to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament that was never played because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tchamwa Tchatchoua and 6-10 Flo Thamba were interchangeable athletic posts who played a key role on the guard-oriented Baylor team that won the 2021 national title. The Bears were using them the same way last season on the way to another Big 12 regular-season title before Tchamwa Tchatchoua got hurt, and he was still the co-Big 12 defensive player of the year.
In his return against Texas Tech, the big man made 3 of 4 shots. Two were 3-pointers from the top of the key.
"It was just another shot I've been working on," Tchamwa Tchatchoua said. "I feel like God allowed me to have extra time to work on my game and I used it."
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