Forte on the mend now
Michael Forte was halfway through another stellar season, making a strong case to defend his Northern 3A MVP title while grooming his game to compete at the next level.
Then, misfortune struck.
During a Jan. 17 basketball practice, the North Tahoe High senior went up for a rebound and came down on a teammate’s foot ” a painful sprain, he thought.
“He tried to go again, and I said, ‘Nah, sit down,'” David Hansen, head coach of the Lakers, said.
So Forte, who turns 18 later this month, sat out the rest of the practice, then went to the doctor the following day. He had broken the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, Hansen said ” a small bone between the toes and the top of the foot, according to webmd.com.
“I was so bummed,” said Forte, a 6-foot-3 post player and three-year varsity starter who played in eight of 16 league games this season. “I was just hoping I could come back for the Truckee game somehow.”
Forte was hoping in vain, as the Jan. 31 Truckee-North Tahoe rematch coincided with the day he received a reconstructive pin in his foot. The surgery went well, Forte said, and although his foot remains tender, he is optimistic that he’ll be off his crutches after today.
“It was the most tragic thing that could have happened to the team,” Hansen said of his star player’s injury, adding that this season has turned into “the perfect storm for North Tahoe basketball,” with injuries and ineligibility issues decimating his roster.
With their leader on the floor, the Lakers stood a fighting chance in any contest. Take the Truckee game on Dec. 6, for example, when Forte led a late charge and scored 21 points only to come up one point short, 39-38, against the longtime rival.
“He always found ways to score the basketball,” Truckee coach Keith Crawford said. “He just has a knack for scoring. … It’s unfortunate that he had that injury. He had a good season going, and he’s a big player in the 3A.”
Besides his ability to score, Crawford has been impressed the past three years with Forte’s competitive nature.
“He’s a fighter,” the coach said. “He always plays hard and never gives up.”
Crawford is not the only coach to express his sentiment about Forte. Before or after every game since the injury, Hansen said each Northern 3A coach has approached him ” or Forte himself, who helps Hansen coach from the bench ” to offer his condolence.
“It’s kind of a neat thing to watch,” Hansen said. “Michael has gained the respect from other coaches and players in the league.”
Including TW Cunningham, head coach of the Dayton Dust Devils.
“He definitely carries that team,” Cunningham said of Forte. “He does everything for them. And he seems like a great kid.”
Dan Schreiber, head coach at Incline, feels the same.
“He’s definitely the key to (the Lakers’) success. From an opposing coach’s standpoint, he’s the player you’re always going to focus on,” Schreiber said, adding that Forte used to get in extra practice time at the recreation center in Incline Village ” alongside Incline players, no less.
“He’s a gym rat.”
Said Yerington coach Daron Wildermuth: “First of all, I hope he heels quickly because he’s a good baseball player, too. He’s a quality athlete, and I wish him luck.”
When Northern 3A coaches convened last season to narrow down all-league selections, the choice for most valuable player was clear-cut.
“Obviously there were other kids in it,” Wildermuth said, “but it came down to, if there’s one player we’d like to have on our team, it was Michael Forte. We all agreed on that.”
“He was definitely deserving,” said Cunningham, who possessed MVP-caliber athletes of his own at Dayton ” namely Jordan Stokes, who is now starting as a freshman at Lassen College. “(Forte) had a great year.”
Prepared to make his best argument for Forte, Hansen was pleasantly surprised to find that he didn’t have to waste much breath.
“I thought I’d really have a fight on my hands, and I did not,” Hansen said.
The MVP recognition was much appreciated.
“I definitely take quite a bit of pride in it,” Forte said. “It’s nice to see all my hard work come together on the court. It makes you feel good inside knowing people notice how hard I play.”
Forte averaged 19.6 points per game, eight rebounds and 2.75 assists last season, according to his coach’s stats.
“I’d say he was just a tick better this year (in each category),” Hansen said ” although he has yet to total up his team’s stats, which he does at the end of each season. If he had to guess, though, Hansen said Forte was probably averaging more than 10 rebounds and between two and five assists. The one stat that’s certain is his 20.1-points-per-game average this season.
Forte also had eclipsed 900 points in his high school career before going down last month. At the rate he was scoring, he was well on his way to posting 1,000 career points as a Laker.
“He plays like a man,” Hansen said. “He’s strong, he’s a good rebounder and he lets the game come to him offensively. If Michael needs to create his own offense, he will, but he understands it’s a team sport. …
“He’s the prefect blend of maturity and athleticism.”
North Tahoe’s big man also sees the court really well ” an aspect of his game that stands out in both Wildermuth’s and Hansen’s opinion. Being able to see the floor and deliver crisp passes is a point of pride for Forte, as well.
“He’ll hit you right in the head with it if you’re not looking,” Hansen said of Forte’s ability to distribute the ball to teammates.
Forte is not accustomed to trying to help his team win from the bench.
“It’s been killing me every day,” he said. “It’s so hard to sit and watch.”
That’s exactly what he’s been doing since the injury, working with Laker post players in practice and helping his coach in any way he can. The most he can do in terms of working on his own game is dribbling the ball while sitting. It’s given him a whole new appreciation for the sport he fell in love with his freshman year.
“It was definitely hard when I found out,” Forte said of learning he had a fractured foot. “I just have to look at it in a positive way. … I’ve learned to appreciate playing basketball. I thought I had that appreciation, but now I definitely do. I think I took it for granted a little bit before.”
The injury also impacted his basketball future, as Forte’s goal for some time has been to play college ball. Despite the severity of the fracture ” his doctor is predicting the beginning of April to begin physical therapy and has not given him a specific time frame as to when he’ll be 100 percent, Forte said ” he plans to continue pursuing his goal.
“I’m pretty sure it will work out still,” Forte said. “It just adjusted my plans a bit.”
Forte said his top choice at this time is Sonoma State, with Humboldt State and Chico State as secondary picks. He also has considered playing at a two-year college, but with nearly a 4.0 grade point average would rather avoid that route, if possible.
“Right now I’m pretty sure I’m not ready to give up basketball,” Forte said. “But academics come first. I feel like I’ve put in the work, so it makes sense to go to a four-year college instead of a JC. … We’ll just have to wait and see.”
In spite of everything he’s been through in the past three weeks, Forte remains optimistic about his basketball future.
“I’ll definitely come back stronger,” he said.
He’s got other pulling for him, as well.
“I hope he gets better so that he can achieve that goal,” Crawford said.