BLOOMINGTON — It may have seemed like an inconsequential five minutes of playing time in an already decided basketball game last Wednesday at Shirk Center.
Yet for Brandon Heyen, it was a reward, a validation, a long sought destination.
"Being on the court again in a game situation was awesome," Heyen said after scoring two points and grabbing a rebound in Illinois Wesleyan's 93-60 win over Millikin. "I actually felt like a basketball player again."
That is largely because Heyen has not experienced the sensation of game action since 2012. Various ankle injuries had caused the Paxton native to miss all of the past two seasons.
"The thought of quitting did go through my mind," said Heyen. "But I have a great support system in my family and friends."
IWU coach Ron Rose called the 6-foot-8 senior taking the floor a great moment for his entire team.
"I think it's a huge victory," said Rose, whose team faces North Park in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game Saturday at Shirk Center. "For Brandon to persevere through all of that, and to get on the court and be in the huddle was certainly a big deal to our group."
As a freshman, Heyen saw action in six games and scored 11 points and grabbed three rebounds in a total of 13 minutes. His difficulties started shortly before his sophomore season.
"I chipped a bone in my ankle and had surgery," Heyen said. "Four weeks after surgery I was getting ready to start rehab and I got MRSA (a bacterial infection). I was in the hospital for a week."
His sophomore season a casualty, Heyen was preparing for a comeback when the ankle started barking again.
"After we got back from Costa Rica (August, 2013), I was diagnosed with a stress fracture," he said. "The second semester my junior year I still didn't feel right. I had another surgery beginning of my senior year, and I've rehabbed successfully for that."
Heyen believes "something as simple as shoe inserts" has enabled him to play again.
"I found something that's keeping the pain away," he said. "My feet are still getting used to them. They're all blistered up. But whatever they're doing, they're helping."
Heyen came to Wesleyan with PBL High School teammate Dylan Overstreet from a Panthers' team that finished 29-1. Overstreet started on IWU's Final Four team last season and is a co-captain for the current Titans.
"It's been a heckuva four years he's gone through," Overstreet said of Heyen. "He's had a tough shake, but he's been strong through it all and battled back. A lot of guys would have called it quits two years ago. Him getting in and getting a bucket (Wednesday) was pretty awesome."
"Seeing how successful he (Overstreet) is makes me want to keep playing," said Heyen.
Rose admires how Heyen handled numerous setbacks.
"The difficult part was there was always hope. It always seemed like the next thing he tried was going to solve the problem," said the Wesleyan coach. "Then it didn't quite solve it. He was able to rehab and work out and do things. He just could never play for any extended period of time because there would be soreness."
It remains to be seen what type of contribution Heyen will be able to make to the rest of the season. The Titans are 11-4 overall and 3-1 in the CCIW.
"When Brandon came to Wesleyan we were very excited about his potential," Rose said. "It's been such a long path. It's intriguing these next few weeks to see where his game evolves to."
Vikings visit: North Park is 9-6 overall and 0-4 in CCIW play. The Vikings boast the league's top scorer in 5-10 sophomore Juwan Henry (21.8) and another threat in 6-3 freshman Jordan Robinson (16.1).