CONCORD, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The Central Cabarrus High School Boys Basketball team earned national attention for its perfect 32-0 season, but the road to the 3A state championship wasn’t without challenges.

“It was just really special to me to do it with all the kids I grew up playing with, my best friends. It was special to do it together,” said senior Gavin Bullock.

Injuries and surgeries made their hopes for a title seem unrealistic.

“Basically, I had cartilage floating around in my knee, and they had to go in with a scope and remove it,” Bullock said. “My knee would lock up. I couldn’t run, jump without it locking up.”

Bullock wasn’t the only player to go down before the 2022-2023 season.

“I landed kind of ugly after a dunk back in the summer and I tore my patella tendon right below my right knee,” said senior Micah Murray.

Murray missed pre-season workouts and the first few games. Even when he got back on the court, he wasn’t sure when he might be back to full strength.

“There were some rough times, at the beginning of the season especially. There were games where I couldn’t do what I wanted to do physically, so I had to sit out and let my teammates handle the work,” Murray said. “But I trusted them and they trusted me to come back to my full self. I think there’s a lot of love in the Central family.”

As Murray and Bullock were recovering, sophomore Jake Baker took a hard fall.

“I went up for a layup that I’ve done a thousand times and my tibia snapped,” Baker said.

The injury may have been even more painful for CCHS head coach Jim Baker.

“It’s a hard thing to do, watch a kid get hurt,” he said “Of course when your son goes down… It was hard to watch.”

All three varsity players searched for the right surgeon. They happened to end up in the same surgeon’s operating room, Dr. Robert Morgan with OrthoCarolina.

“In sports medicine, we think a lot backwards. So when I see an athlete, I’m thinking, ‘what’s the start of their next season?’ And from that, that will determine a lot of is surgery going to be in their best interest or is it going to be more conservative treatment with more physical therapy,” Morgan said.

The work of Morgan, his team, the athletes, and CCHS’ training staff helped cut the players’ recovery time by more than half of some experts’ predictions.

“The first doctor said four to six months, the day I got hurt. The next doctor I saw said I’d be out for a full year, but Dr. Morgan got me back in three months,” said Jake Baker.

“I’m proud, but I have the easiest part. The athlete always has the toughest part because they have to do the work,” Morgan said.

The players took to the weight room to strengthen their quads and their trust in their newly repaired knees.

“The biggest thing was my confidence. Landing again and exploding knowing I wouldn’t get hurt,” said Bullock.

They said they all came back stronger than before to compete in the state title game.

“Just knowing that they have my back no matter what, that’s the thing that kept me going,” Murray said.

“All the kids that we have in the program are such good kids and make good teammates. They all just kept picking each other up and encouraging each other. You know when somebody went down, somebody else would step up and fill that spot for them, and it could not probably have worked out any better,” Jim Baker said.

He said he’s proud of how smart, kind and determined his players have proven themselves to be.

“I’m really proud of what they’ve accomplished,” the coach said. “This one probably goes on the top of the shelf.”