CHILLICOTHE - Cole Cottrill knew right away.
The Unioto senior do-it-all guard knew he suffered a major injury, knew his season was automatically in jeopardy and knew — most of all — his teammates needed No. 20 on the court in some shape or form.
On a two-on-one breakaway against Zane Trace last Friday at Unioto High School, Cottrill leaped to catch the back end of an alley-oop — sticking to his guns and attempting to maintain his above-the-rim style of play. But in mid-air, Cottrill was fouled on a bang-bang play.
As his slender, 6-foot-4 frame fell to the floor violently, Cottrill's instincts took over and he tried to catch himself. Instead of adding a clip to his already crowded highlight reel, Cottrill broke both of his wrists; sending a hush across the crowd and changing the makeup of the area basketball landscape instantly.
"The only thing I could really think about in that moment was my team," Cottrill said, now with a cast on each arm. "I knew I was going to be out for awhile. It kind of hurt, knowing that I left my teammates a man short. When I went up for the ball, I felt (the defender) hit me. I knew something bad was about to happen. When I hit the ground, I felt a little pop in my wrist."
Cottrill, filled to the brim with adrenaline, hopped up like nothing had happened. Unfortunately, that wasn't reality.
"I think (Cottrill) was in such shock, that he hopped up and wanted help right away," Unioto coach Matt Hoops said. "Instantly, the feeling in my stomach was an awful one. My heart just sank, just because I know how much time he's put into this, how much fun he has playing the game and how much he enjoys playing with his teammates."
After an initial hope that he would return to the floor at some point this year, Cottrill received word Monday one of his wrists requires surgery — effectively ending not only his season, but his four-year basketball career at Unioto.
"It was heartbreaking to hear the news," Cottrill said, through tears. "I really wanted to come back. They're going to put in a plate to fix where the degree of my wrist is. Your wrists are only supposed to be at a five-degree angle, mine is at 22."
For good measure, Cottrill's Shermans went on to beat the Pioneers that night by a final of 74-46 — the team's 35th consecutive Scioto Valley Conference victory and its 48th straight regular season win. However, the cost of the win delivered a deafening blow.
The team lost its mojo, its star player and most importantly, its momentum.
Enter Erique Hosley; Cottrill's best friend since preschool and the Shermans' go-to name when a leader is needed.
"Erique and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember," Cottrill said. "He's always been by my side. Me and him, we go everywhere together."
In a basketball sense, Hosley and Cottrill have made memories together since the fourth grade — the year in which Hoops asked them both to be the Shermans' ball boys.
The very night after Cottrill's injury, Hosley made sure No. 20 was still with his brothers on the court. The Shermans, paying a visit to Huntington, beat the Huntsmen 68-47 and No. 20 led the way with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
No. 20's name — this time — was Erique Hosley.
"I felt nothing but pride wearing that number," Hosley said with a smile. "We were sitting down, watching a movie the night before and Cole had suggested it. He was just throwing the idea out there, almost kidding around. I thought to myself, 'you know, I'm really going to do it.' I knew it was a great way to represent him and honor him. I wanted him to still be there on the court with us when we accomplish all the goals we've set out to accomplish."
Hosley, after gaining Cottrill's permission, made a switch from his usual No. 5 to No. 20. It turns out, the two friends weren't the only ones thinking over the switch.
"The crazy thing was that they hadn't talked to me," Hoops said. "I didn't get much sleep Friday night, at all. I think I went to bed at 1 and woke up at 4. As I was sitting in my living room, thinking of all of the things that had happened and praying for the different outcomes we could possibly have, I just really felt for Cole. You see it in college all of the time; someone wearing someone else's number to honor them. I thought what a great idea that would be to honor Cole."
The next morning, Hoops put his 'original' plan into action.
"We had a shootaround the next morning and a team meeting," he said. "We had finished shooting and I walked over to Erique and said 'what would you think about wearing number 20 tonight'. He said 'I've already thought about that.' He made the switch, we were the only three that knew about it, and I think he honored Cole the way he'd want to be honored."
And so you have it.
However, this is just the beginning of the story. The end is still being formulated.
The Shermans, recently recognized by the Associated Press as the No. 3 team in all of Division II, now have yet another reason to play — their injured teammate.
"I think we can still make it just as far as we could if I were able to play," Cottrill said. "I mean, the next person on our bench is just as good. They'll do what they need to do to win. Our guys will continue to play our roles."
"We constantly preach 'team' and 'next man up,'" Hoops said. "We'll continue to do that. It's worked so far. Our team has rallied around this. We feel like this will bring us even closer together as a team than we already are."
For Cottrill, individually, he plans to stay with his team, support them and continue to be grateful for those who have been closest to him — before continuing his basketball career at a collegiate level.
"The last four years at Unioto, as a Sherman, has been a great four years," Cottrill said. "I've been a part of something great. Nothing compares to it. We've still got a job to do and the ride doesn't stop here."
While the finishing touches are being painted on Unioto's 2015-16 canvas, No. 20 will not only be on the Shermans' bench in person, but on the back of Hosley's game jersey and in the minds of every Shermans' roster member.
In or out, Cottrill will still have his fingerprints on every contest.
"It's not about me, it's about my team. I just want what's best for the team. Hoops has been with me since the fourth grade. I've grown up with him. He's always been like a second dad to me," Cottrill said, with a single tear running down his cheek. "Erique and I are so close and Bubba (Isaac Wheeler) and Sawyer (Lovely), I love them; just as much as anyone. I'll be right here with them."