by Vlad Ionasc
That’s how long it’s been since Sol Rolls-Tyson last stepped on the hardwood to play in an official basketball game.
Rolls-Tyson, a Birmingham-born forward who spent his collegiate years in America at Utah State Eastern and North Dakota (NCAA D1) before taking his talents to Norway and then back home in the British Basketball League – where he suited up for the Sheffield Sharks and the Cheshire Phoenix – was gearing up for his fourth season as a pro, this time as a member of the Surrey Scorchers, before a freak injury sustained in a routine practice session stopped him in his tracks.
“Loads of us jumped for a rebound and I got caught in the middle,” said Rolls-Tyson. “I took an elbow, but it was like a car crash, it was crazy.”
The 6’8 forward was laser focused on making the most of the session, especially as the Scorchers had lost their first two games of the season, so despite feeling winded after landing awkwardly on his teammate – Chavares Flanigan – he tried to carry on before eventually sitting out the rest of the session.
At that point, he had no idea that he had just suffered a life-threatening injury.
“My team-mate was actually on the floor, so I helped him up and carried on practicing, but then I started feeling sick, so I went to the bathroom, threw up, came back and sat out and just watched practice in the end,” said Rolls-Tyson.
Rolls-Tyson consulted Surrey’s physio immediately after practice ended and took up his advice of going to Surrey County Hospital for a check-up. After an x-ray revealed that he had a bruised ribcage, Rolls-Tyson was told that after about a week of rest he would have no problems stepping back on the court.
He was still unaware of the severity of his injury.
“I went home that night, couldn’t eat, so I took a nap, woke up and then went to the bathroom and I was urinating blood,” said Rolls-Tyson.
At that point, he knew that something wasn’t quite right and rushed back to the hospital.
Following a computerized tomography (CT) scan, Rolls-Tyson received a spine-chilling verdict.
Ruptured kidney. Internal bleeding.
Rolls-Tyson was hospitalized for a week, but akin to hardened soldier, he was already plotting his comeback.
“I knew I’d come back; it was just about when.”
Rolls-Tyson’s query was dealt with expeditiously.
“I was told that they’d put a stent in just to hold the kidney into place and let it heal, so at first we were told six months.”
Six months off meant that Rolls-Tyson was on track to return in mid-April/early-May…and then March happened. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic served only as another bump in the road for Rolls-Tyson and so the initial projection of six months ballooned into a full year away from the court.
“I couldn’t even go to the gym for the first couple of months, I literally had to just chill,” said Rolls-Tyson. “I’d try to go for a walk, or a little run through the park, but it was hard.
“I just had to sit there and wait for time to go by.”
Creon Raftopolous – the head coach of the Scorchers – explained what he saw in Rolls-Tyson as a player and as a person when he signed him ahead of the 2019/20 season.
“Sol’s a great guy, a great human being,” said Raftopulous. “A lot of young players need to understand that that’s something coaches look at a lot, as how a person is as a human being. Sol is a very respectful guy and a great teammate.
“I think that Sol had a sixth-man role when he was first at Cheshire and I’d also followed a little bit of what he had done as a young, up-and-coming player out of Birmingham.
“I think he’s got a great skillset and I love players that can play multiple positions. I do believe that he’s a guy who could play the three and the four because of his athletic ability and he shoots the ball really well, which I think sometimes people don’t see.
“He fitted really well into our style of play and that’s why we went for Sol last season.”
Rolls-Tyson accumulated just two appearances – against the Bristol Flyers and Worcester Wolves – for the Scorchers before picking up the horrendous injury, which left Raftopulous disappointed as he firmly believed that the versatile forward would’ve been a “key contributor” for his team.
The Surrey boss added that his franchise took care of Rolls-Tyson by keeping in close contact throughout the entire recovery process and by making sure that he still received a full paycheque every month.
“As a club, we supported him for the whole year, we made sure that he was financially covered, so he never had to stress out over that side of things,” said Raftopulous.
Rolls-Tyson admitted that while the Scorchers managed to alleviate some of the pain by freeing him of financial worries, it was the repeated hospital delays and complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic that generated the most stress and frustration.
“It was very hard, stressful actually, because each time I’m ringing the hospital trying to find out what’s going on, it’s just getting delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed.”
In the end, Rolls-Tyson was forced to switch Surrey County Hospital for Spire Parkway Hospital (a private institution) because of the repeated delays to his surgery date.
Rolls-Tyson noted that while the process was demanding, he couldn’t have asked for a better supporting cast around him, with his brother Joshua Rolls-Tyson – who also played basketball professionally in England and Germany before retiring in 2015 – serving as his main beacon of hope.
“He was constantly pushing me to stay with it, stick with it, stay positive,” said a gleeful Sol. “He advised me to watch tape while I couldn’t play and just get smarter for when I come back.”
It’s pretty common for athletes to seek help and advice from other pros when they’re going through an arduous, long-term healing process and that’s the exact blueprint that Rolls-Tyson followed when he reached out to fellow Birmingham-born ballers, Kofi Josephs and Myles Hesson.
Josephs and Hesson both suffered serious injuries in the past and so their stories of overcoming adversity served as important sources of inspiration for Rolls-Tyson.
“Josephs had a hip injury that he overcame and Hesson had a leg injury and he explained to me how he overcame his injuries and that motivated me,” said Rolls-Tyson. “That made it a lot easier, just in the fact that I could see that it is possible to overcome these things.”
Rolls-Tyson expressed his gratitude towards Paul Douglas – a BBL stalwart who played for the Newcastle Eagles in the 90’s – for letting him work on his shooting at All City Basketball – Douglas’ workout centre in Birmingham – while he was slowly recovering from his injury.
Rolls-Tyson credited J4 Pro Training for helping him out in the weight room and Box Nutrition for aiding him in the kitchen.
The 26-year-old added that while he endured an extremely difficult year, he also learnt a lot over the past 12 months.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, if you put your mind to it you can always overcome adversity.
“I feel like it’s changed me as a person, for sure. When little things happen to me now, they’re minor compared to that [injury] so I’ll be able to get over them a lot easier.” said Rolls-Tyson.
The Phoenix announced the re-signing of Rolls-Tyson on the 12th of October and the forward has already played 25 minutes of pre-season basketball against the Flyers and Leicester Riders.
“I was very excited to play against the Flyers but I was shocked that a basketball game came around that quick for me as I had been waiting for so long,” said Rolls-Tyson.
Despite suffering two defeats and coming away feeling a little disappointed with his personal performances, Rolls-Tyson was beside himself with joy at just being back on the floor and competing against BBL opposition.
“Good or bad game, I was extremely happy to be back on the court,” concluded Rolls-Tyson.
Tomorrow evening, Rolls-Tyson will have the chance to participate in his first official game in more than a year, as his second stint with the Nix tips off with a classic North-West Derby against the Manchester Giants.