Aaron Toomey: Taking Nothing For Granted

 

By: Patrick Ronan | @pk_ronan


Aaron Toomey has a long, and somewhat complicated, relationship with basketball. The game has lifted him to his highest of highs and knocked him down to his lowest of lows – but Toomey isn’t ready to give up the game he loves so much.

Growing up, Toomey played any sport he could – well, really anything that gave him a chance to compete against his brother Zach – but basketball was always at the top of his list. By the time he got to Bishop McGuinness High School in Kernersville, North Carolina, Toomey knew he was good enough to play in college and set his mind to making that dream become a reality.

Toomey was a superstar at Bishop, leading the Villains to their first ever 1A state championship as a junior in 2009. Just five years after graduating in 2010, Toomey was inducted into the Bishop McGuinness Sports Hall of Fame. Then there was the off the court honor he received that might top all of his high school accomplishments – his head coach, Josh Thompson, thought so highly of Toomey as both a person and player that he named his son after him.

Colleges all over the country took notice of Toomey’s game.

“The recruiting process was a bit crazy for me. I had all sorts of schools reach out to me throughout the process. From ACC schools wanting me to walk on to really small Division 3 schools,” Toomey said. “In the end I was really focused on finding a really high academic school that I could play at.”

Many thought Toomey was overlooked by some bigger schools because he was a bit undersized and played at a small high school, but Toomey doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t like to say that I was overlooked,” Toomey said. “Sometimes as a coach you just miss on kids. That’s part of what makes recruiting so hard for coaches. You never know how some kids are going to progress and how good they are going to be. I certainly thought I could have played at a higher level, but looking back I have no regrets with how everything worked out.”

Aaron would wind up at Amherst College – a Division III school in Massachusetts known for its outstanding academics. Take just one look at Toomey’s list of accomplishments in his four years playing for the Lord Jeffs and it’s easy to see why he has no regrets on his college decision.

  • Led Amherst to the 2012-13 Division III National Championship
  • Back-to-back Division III National Player of the Year honors
  • Three-time Division III All-American
  • Back-to-back Final Four appearances
  • Second player in conference history to win back-to-back conference Player of the Year
  • Three-time First Team All-Conference
  • Amherst all-time scoring leader (2,033) *only Amherst player to ever surpass 2,000 points*
  • Amherst all-time leader in three-pointers made (291)
  • Amherst all-time leader in made free throws (606)
  • Overall record of 108-13 in four years at Amherst

Simply put, Aaron Toomey is the greatest player to ever don a Lord Jeffs jersey.

“Like I said, no regrets ending up at Amherst. I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Toomey said. “I was given the chance to attend one of the best academic schools in the country. Pretty unbelievable opportunity.”

Toomey’s play caught the eye of several scouts, who reached out to Aaron his senior year about continuing to play after college.

“I ended up traveling to Spain during the summer after I graduated to play in a showcase event, which ended up leading to an offer from a Spanish team. It was an interesting and stressful process, because it came right down to the end, but I ended up on a decent team in a great area of Spain, so it all worked out well,” Toomey said. “The overseas game is a bit different than the game here in America, so it took a little time for me to adjust, but I felt like I adjusted pretty well over there. Living in a new country was interesting. I didn’t speak much Spanish, so that made it tough, but it was still really cool to experience a new culture and live in Spain.”

Adjusting to the Euro style of basketball and overcoming a language barrier were certainly challenging, but were nothing compared to what Toomey would have to endure while in Spain – something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

“I had been there for only three months or so when I took an elbow to the left side of my head in practice. The original diagnosis was a concussion,” Toomey said. “I had never had a concussion before, so I just figured the trainer was right and that’s what it was. The last thing I remember is walking back into my apartment.”

When Toomey’s teammates got back to their apartment later that night, they could tell something wasn’t right. They called the team trainer, who immediately rushed Aaron to the hospital after seeing him.

“I woke up the next morning not remembering anything and not knowing what had happened. Waking up in a hospital in Spain not knowing what had happened was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced,” Toomey said. “Not only was it a concussion, but I also had a shattered skull and a blood clot on my brain.”

The first thing the doctors told him was just how lucky he was to be alive.

“They told me that if I hadn’t gotten to the hospital that night, I likely wouldn’t have woken up the next morning.”

But what the doctors told him next was far worse.

“The doctor went on to tell me that I likely would never be able to play professionally again. Hearing that just three months after I began my professional career was devastating. Playing basketball was my life, and now I didn’t have that.”

Toomey wasn’t shy about sharing how hard it was for him to wrap his mind around not playing basketball and moving on.

“It took me so long to get over what happened to me in Spain. Upwards of three full years,” Toomey said. “I went through a lot in those three years. All I wanted to be doing was playing and there was nothing I could do to get back on the court. I was helpless.”

There was no magic recipe or solution to help him get over the pain of not playing.

“So many people tried to help me and I was so appreciative of that, but it was just going to take time, a lot of time.”

One of those people that tried to help was Dave Hixon, Toomey’s head coach at Amherst, who was one of the first people to reach out after Aaron returned to the United States.

“He knew I was struggling and he knew how important basketball was to me,” Toomey said. “During our conversation on the phone he offered me a spot on his staff. I was excited but didn’t want to be a charity case that he took on just because I got hurt.”

Hixon reassured Toomey that he wanted him on his staff not to help him get over not playing, but for what he knew Toomey would bring to the team.

“He believed in me and my knowledge of the game and took a chance on me and I’ll be forever grateful of that.”

Toomey is now in his fourth season as an assistant on the Amherst staff. He’s moved on, accepted what happened and is ready to carve out his career in coaching.

“I now truly believe that everything happens for a reason,” Toomey said. “This is all part of a greater plan for me and I’m pretty excited to see where it leads.”

Coincidentally, it’s another one of Toomey’s coaches while playing at Amherst that is giving him a different opportunity to return to basketball – and this time Toomey can play.

Mike Rejniak who coached me at Amherst has been all over getting this D3 TBT team going. He reached out to me early on in the process to see if I’d be interested in playing,” Toomey said. “It didn’t take me long to say yes. A chance to play meaningful basketball against some really good competition is what I’ve been craving ever since my injury.”

Toomey has played in a men’s league and some casual pickup games, but as he describes it, “nothing that really meant anything.”

His D3 team currently sits in 7th place in the Northeast Region. If they can keep their support up ad lock in a spot in TBT2018, Toomey will return to the court for the first time to play in a tournament that definitely means something, and will mean even more to him.