College Basketball Player Scores First Points Since Recovering From Coma in Emotional Debut: 'Don't Give Up'

Senior nights in collegiate sports can often be emotional events, but the University of Vermont may have set a new benchmark on Tuesday night.

Playing their season finale in front of their own fans against Albany, the Catamounts gave Josh Speidel his first start in college basketball, which he marked by scoring the first basket of the game in Vermont's 85-62 win.

Most seniors would be disappointed to make their debut on seniors night—but Speidel isn't like most seniors.

A bright 17-year-old prospect when the Catamounts recruited him, the Indiana native's life changed forever at the beginning of February 2015, when a car crash left him in a coma for a few months.

Speidel was hit by an oncoming car as he drove out of a parking lot while trying to get over on a four-lane main road. While nobody else was injured in the accident, his head swung back and forth as the car spun out of control, causing a traumatic brain injury.

Described by Vermont coach John Becker as the best player the program recruited in his 14-year spell in Burlington—Kyle Guy and Dylan Windler, whom he played with on the grassroots circuit, were selected in the 2019 NBA draft—Speidel eventually came out of the coma—but had to learn to walk and talk again.

"It's been a long journey for him," Becker told Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.

"He is just a really an inspiration to us all, and I don't think it's a coincidence we've had arguably the four best years in program history since he's been here with us. There's something so inspirational, magical about his recovery and his determination and will to get back."

Speidel's parents echoed Becker's sentiment, explaining they hoped their son's recovery would inspire those who are going through similarly dark times.

"We want people to have hope," Speidel's mum, Lisa, was quoted as saying by ESPN. "Just that reminder, you know, don't give up."

A moment we’ll never forget!@UVMmbb’s @JSpeidel24 scores his first career points and the first basket for Vermont! #AEHoops

Five years ago, Josh was in a car accident that put him in a coma. Through support, rehab, and basketball he continued to push and work hard! pic.twitter.com/nLGtPpWLDH

— America East (@AmericaEast) March 4, 2020

The Catamounts included Speidel in their starting line-up against Albany and arranged with their opponents to allow their senior to score the first points of the game.

"I didn't get to experience my senior night in high school, I didn't get to walk out with my parents," Speidel, who will graduate with a 3.4 GPA this year, said before his debut.

"I don't think it's hit me fully yet, but just being able to walk them out and embrace them and thank [my parents], thank coach [John Becker] for all he's done—it will be pretty emotional. It's hard to put into words."

After the game, he spoke of a dream coming true.

"It's a dream come true to look in the box score seeing No. 32, Josh Speidel—it's a dream come true, and I couldn't be more happier," he said.

With the win over Albany, Vermont improved to 24-7 for the season and 14-2 in conference play.

The Catamounts lead the America East by a comfortable margin and are poised to make a third appearance in the NCAA tournament in four years.

Even if Vermont reaches March Madness, however, it will take some effort to top Tuesday night in terms of emotion.

Cincinnati Bearcats, Vermont Catamounts
[File photo] Keith Williams #2 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against Anthony Lamb #3 of the Vermont Catamounts at Fifth Third Arena on December 3, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Michael Hickey/Getty