Through pain and surgeries that seemed without end, Jakob Gollon imagined finishing his college basketball career in the NCAA tournament.
“But reality isn’t like dreams,” the sixth-year senior at Mercer University said in a telephone interview.
That changed Sunday when the Macon, Ga., school beat Florida Gulf Coast University in the Atlantic Sun Conference title game to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985.
Gollon’s wait lasted four surgeries and 152 games. After breaking his left foot as a high school junior in Stevens Point, Wis., doctors inserted a 4.5-inch screw in a failed attempt to fix the problem. Gollon played briefly in his first two seasons at Mercer, but even a second surgery didn’t heal the foot. Major surgery and eight months of rehabilitation followed. The doctor, Charlotte, N.C., foot specialist Robert Anderson, joked to Gollon that the procedure’s breaking, shaving and rearranging constituted a total foot reconstruction.
At the same time, Gollon had microfracture surgery to repair his troublesome right knee.
This time the surgeries worked. Gollon returned a step slower, forcing a shift from small forward to power forward. Running and jumping, though, don’t feel the same as they did before the ordeal. But he’s played in Mercer’s last 141 games.
In the meantime, he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and used the extra eligibility to finish a master’s degree in educational leadership in December.
There are moments, though, when the coming NCAA tournament appearance doesn’t seem real. During a few days off earlier this week, Gollon and buddies on the team regularly flashed bewildered looks at each other.
“We weren’t thinking about it,” Gollon said, “then we just look at each other and say, ‘We did it.’”