CANTON, Mass. – Less than two years after suffering a life altering brain injury, Canton senior Xavier Machuga hit one of the biggest milestones on his road for recovery.
He made it back onto the basketball court.
A swing player during his sophomore season, Machuga was slated two be a starter for his final two years of high school before suffering a brain aneurysm in early May 2017. He spent over a week in a medically induced coma and could barely move when he regained consciousness after the stroke caused bleeding in his cerebellum. He had to learn to talk and walk all over again.
Over the past 18 months, Machuga has achieved plenty of milestones all while attending Bulldog practices and games during their historic season a year ago. During that run, Machuga and head coach Ryan Gordy, who formed a special bond in 2015 when Machuga moved from Connecticut for his freshman year, had a conversation about what could have been. During that conversation, the idea that Machuga would never play for the Bulldogs again came up.
“Why not?” Gordy asked. “Let’s create that opportunity for you as a senior.”
After months of strenuous rehab, and more recently, hours of layup practice, the moment came in the opening minute of the Bulldogs’ clash with defending D1 State Champions Mansfield. Machuga earned his first career start and scored the first points of the game for Canton, hitting a layup to standing ovation from both teams and fans.
“To be honest, it felt nothing less than awesome,” Machuga said. He was the first Bulldog to be named a captain for this season. “To be out there again with all my teammates, it’s a great feeling. It’s another milestone for me to take the floor with my fellow teammates and score a bucket, that was awesome.”
— Ryan Lanigan (@R_Lanigan) January 15, 2019
Machuga has made terrific strides in his recovery, and currently walks with the aid of a cane. And there is no denying his love for basketball. Before his injury, the story goes that Machuga made friends with the custodians at Canton High in order to get in extra shots up inside the gym.
“Xavier’s moment, it’s bigger than basketball,” Gordy said. “To see all the hard work he’s put in to get back to that moment, it’s pretty emotional for me, him and his family, and all the guys on the team. It’s been a long road to recovery and it’s just a really awesome, special moment for him and everybody in our community to see that happen.
“Tonight was pretty special, it was one of the coolest moment I’ve been involved in in my life.”
Gordy was hopeful the moment would happen this year but he left it up it Machuga to pick when. The senior forward hand picked Tuesday’s matchup with Kelley-Rex leading Mansfield, but not because of the showdown between division leaders, but because of his relationship with Hornet head coach Mike Vaughan. It was important for Machuga to have personal connections with both coaches and Vaughan coached Machuga in AAU basketball prior to the incident.
“It’s so much bigger than basketball,” Vaughan said. “Just to be able to recognize a kid who, given different circumstances, would have been here and been a key contributor to the Canton High team, but because of some unfortunate events had to take another path. I knew X before he got sick and now I’ve been able to see what he’s been able to do after he got sick. What’s amazing is he still wants to impact people. You just can’t say enough good things about when people live their life that way and want to do good things. There’s a lot of people who take adversity and fail and he’s doing nothing but being successful out of this. This was an opportunity for him to get highlighted, all the people chanting his name, my kids engaged and excited for him. It was very special, it was very touching. It was something I’ll remember for a long time.”
Canton dedicated last year to Machuga and used the slogan “Soldier X.” The Bulldogs went on to earn a share of the Davenport division title, the program’s first league crown since 1992.
“I was super determined to play again,” Machuga said. “The team winning the league championship last year drove me to make the comeback that I did. I mean I was working hard already but seeing what they did really pushed me inside.”
Machuga’s teammates fed off the moment, trailing by just one (15-14) and leading 26-25 over the once-beaten Hornets heading into the locker room. But Mansfield proved to be too much in the second half, using an early 9-0 run in the third to flip the game. The Hornets outscored Canton 24-9 in the third and finished with a 70-43 victory.
“I can’t thank Mike and the whole Mansfield program enough for their sportsmanship and participation,” Gordy said. “They had the ‘Soldier X’ warmup shirts which were awesome, those were a surprise to us. Xavier got emotional when he saw that, it was a really cool thing. The way the Mansfield kids reacted, it was really cool to see.”
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