Valpo’s Kevin Van Wijk getting his legs under him
VALPARAISO — Around Christmas break, Kevin Van Wijk started to feel like himself again. Understandably, it was taking time for him to fully recover from knee surgery in late August.
But judging by his recent play, he now appears to be all the way back.
Van Wijk scored a career-high 31 points at Detroit, then followed up with 18 against Wright State. Not surprisingly, Valparaiso’s 6-foot-8 senior was named the Horizon League Player of the Week.
“He had a great week, and it’s nice to see him moving more like he did last year,” Crusaders coach Bryce Drew said. “With his knee getting scoped in the fall, I think we saw a lot of after-effects of it early in the season. I feel like the last week, he’s moving much better, more like he did last year.”
The knee was bothering Van Wijk late last season. The initial hope was that fatigue after the long campaign was the main culprit, with a summer of Van Wijk strengthening his leg muscles remedying the problem.
But he was still experiencing a “stabbing pain,” and he underwent arthroscopic surgery. He also received platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
“They cleaned it out, removed some soft tissue, and it took away the pain,” Van Wijk said. “There was soreness at the beginning, but I haven’t had any trouble with it. It feels really good.
“Coming back was a little bit of a struggle. But it’s always good to have a couple good games in a row, especially when you’re winning. I’m getting back into the groove a little bit, getting a little bit of that feeling from last year.”
For about the first two weeks post-surgery, Van Wijk couldn’t put any weight on the leg. Slowly, the all-league selection built back to jogging, then running, then basketball activities. He was limited in practice, his stamina lagged, and he sat out the Crusaders’ exhibition opener.
But there are no physical restrictions any longer. He played 30 minutes in each of the last two games before Wednesday’s win against Green Bay, just off his season-high of 32 in Valparaiso’s overtime win at Kent State on Nov. 18, when he scored his previous career-high of 25 points.
“Early in the year, I thought he showed glimpses where he might’ve had it for a day or a game and then kind of go back,” Drew said. “I know it was really frustrating him. It’s just nice to see him running well. He’s able to play more minutes than he was playing early in the year, and a lot of that’s just going with his knee getting stronger, and his conditioning from the time that he missed.”
Van Wijk went 13-of-15 from the field at Detroit, including 8-of-8 in the second half. He went 6-of-9 against Wright State, and set a career-high with four assists.
Going into the Crusaders’ game against Green Bay, he was leading the Horizon League in field goal percentage (62.8) in all games and in conference-only games (72.9). He actually had moved to the top of Valparaiso’s career list at 60.3 percent.
“He’s been huge,” Ryan Broekhoff said of Van Wijk, who also had 28 points on 10-of-12 shooting in the team’s previous two games, then had 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the win against the Phoenix. “He’s really kind of hitting his stride at the right time, playing really well the last few games. At Detroit, he really carried the offense for most of the night. It was a great thing for him to win the player of the week, to kind of get rewarded for how good he’s been playing lately. If he continues to play big, it’s really going to help us win games.”
In addition to his health, Van Wijk — who, around the team’s schedule and his class schedule, has continued to work out in Crown Point three to four days a week to help ensure his knee and body overall remain fit — pointed to several other factors for his recent performance.
“We’ve gone against different defenses, they show hard on ball screens, so the replace guy or the big guy is going to be open in the paint, and I have to give credit to all the perimeter guys, just looking for me,” said Van Wijk, who of late has generally managed to control his ongoing back issues, if he’ll never quite be 100 percent with that ailment. “They’re making the pass, because it’s hard when two guys are trapping them, because the big guy will show. It’s a lot harder to make the pass than to make the layup; I have the easy part.”