Wright State basketball coach Scott Nagy said his team is hurting yet hopeful after freshman Ryan Custer fractured a C5 vertebrae and underwent spinal cord surgery Saturday following an accident at an off-campus party at Miami University.
»»RELATED: Initial report on the accident
“It’s certainly hit everybody hard,” Nagy said. “It’s not an easy thing for anybody to deal with. But there’s also a lot of hope, too. We don’t want to paint a picture like everything is awful because I think there’s a lot of hope. Ryan is a very tough young man.”
Custer and two teammates were at the party in Oxford on Saturday when, according to a police report, Custer attempted to dive through a party-goer’s legs into a makeshift pool. Witnesses believe he struck his head on the person’s knee.
Custer, 19, lay motionless, face down in the water for 10-15 seconds before being removed from the pool and later air-lifted to University Hospital in his hometown of Cincinnati.
“I’ve coached long enough to know when I get a call on a Saturday afternoon from a player that something wrong happened,” Nagy said. “You don’t ever prepare yourself for stuff like that. It’s not an easy thing. The main thing is just helping the family deal with it and helping our players deal with it because it’s a shock to everybody.”
Nagy said he spent time Sunday at the hospital, supporting Custer and his family and all of the WSU teammates who came to visit. Nagy had planned to have a team meeting Monday but delayed that until Tuesday because so many of the players wanted to drive back to Cincinnati to visit Custer in the hospital.
“He’s a great kid, a great teammate,” Nagy said. “His teammates love him. They really do. It’s certainly hit everybody hard. But nothing changes in terms of the relationships they can have with him. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, but he’s a tough kid.”
On the Facebook page the family createdto keep people updated on Custer’s condition, a post described the visit.
“Today Ryan’s Wright State University basketball team came to visit for the second day in a row. What an incredible group of guys! No wonder Ryan is in love with that sport and his team. Needless to say we had the tallest visitors in the ICU! The boys brought banners from school to hang up in his room, and he was so happy to see them all.”
The page also detailed his injuries and the events surrounding them, saying Custer was conscious during the flight and when he arrived at the hospital and was speaking to family members. The surgery to fuse vertebrae and repair the damage went according to plan, the post said.
“Our hope is as the spinal cord swelling decreases, he will get more feeling in his extremities,” the statement read. “As of Sunday night, he has feelings to the touch from his shoulders down his arms to his fingers. He can also bend his arms at the elbows and shrug his shoulders. As of right now, however, he has no feeling from his waist down. The doctors hope in time he will continue to get feeling, but there is a long road ahead of him.”
“If you knowRyan,you know he is one of the most amazing kids and such a strong man physically and mentally. If anyone can get through this, it is him. We told him of everyone’s prayers and he is humbled by the outreach. Please continue to pray and we will keep everyone updated as things improve.”
Junior Grant Benzinger said that is exactly what he and the rest of the teammates are doing.
“We’re all keeping Ryan and his family in our prayers,” Benzinger said. “Ryan is one of the toughest guys on the team. We’re just doing everything we can right now to support him and his family.”
Freshman teammate Everett Winchester expressed his feelings on Twitter, writing “Strangers become friends. Friends become FAMILY. Get well my brother. Love you.”
WSU athletic director Bob Grant and associate AD Joylynn Brown also visited Custer on Monday.
“This is the kind of nightmare stuff that just makes my heart hurt,” Grant said. “It hurts for Ryan and his family. I know it sounds cliche, but we are a family here. We have a culture where we have 300 student athletes who are very close to one another. This is one of our family members who is hurting. We’ll do all we can to help him. He’s a super, smart, great kid. And he’s a tough kid and a strong kid.”
Nagy said he’s dealt with a number of tragedies in his 27 years of coaching, and it never gets easier.
“Every one’s different. Everyone handles it differently,” he said. “We just have to be here to help them do it. You come to Wright State to play basketball and hopefully win a bunch of games and maybe go to the NCAA tournament, and you don’t think you’re signing up for stuff like this. But this is real life. You learn stuff about real life through basketball, but this is real life stuff. It’s tough. Life’s tough. And it requires tough people. And that’s what I like about Ryan, he’s tough.”