Putting in the Work — Everyday...

Putting in the Work — Everyday...

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, a redshirt senior forward on the Baylor men’s basketball team, had quite the story to tell — even before the injury. 

Originating from Douala, Cameroon, Tchamwa Tchatchoua played at the NBA Global Academy in Australia, then played at UNLV for a year before finding his home at Baylor University. Rapidly earning the adoration of Baylor fans, he earned the nickname Everyday Jon, a credit to his incredible work ethic and relentless effort that helped earn his recognition as the 2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a first team All-Big 12 Conference defender — honors that were well earned despite missing the final six games of conference play because of one devastating moment of an otherwise rowdy and victorious evening in Waco.

Feb. 12, 2022. Baylor versus Texas in the Ferrell Center. Two of the top teams in the Big 12, both with eyes set on a run at the conference title and more. Racing back on defense to stop a potential Longhorn fast break, Tchamwa Tchatchoua planted awkwardly, twisting his left leg and crumbling his 6-foot-8 frame to the floor with a gruesome injury that ended his season and — at the time — potentially his career.

The following is an excerpt from the Oct. 26 episode of the Sic ’Em Podcast, powered by Rogue Media Network, hosted by the Voice of the Bears and Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcasting, John Morris, B.A. ’80. In his own words, Tchamwa Tchatchoua tells his story of the injury and the work he puts in every day for another chance to play basketball for Baylor. 

I was coming back from one of my best games since I started playing basketball. Big rivalry game coming up, Ferrell Center full. I had my uncle coming in town to watch me play for the first time.

We get started, really excited. We are on the bench cheering for each other. I get on the floor … I was jogging back. 

I remember seeing a foot in front of me, so I just try to avoid it to get back in position as soon as I can … and it happened.

The gym just got quiet. I don’t know if it was just me being in pain or just everybody got quiet. Everything was just like silent. I remember coach touching me and telling me, ‘You’ll be all right, big guy.’

Everything was just numb at that moment. The pain was unbearable. My leg was unstable. I felt like I had a toothpick on my leg. I felt like I only had one ligament holding on my leg at that moment. When I had the thought about tearing my ACL, I just started screaming … not because of the pain, but just because of how much work I had been putting in, how much preparation, how I never cheated either on my body or on my skills.

I got carried to the training room, couldn’t lift my left leg. I could barely just push it. I barely had plantar flexion on my left leg. I remember our athletic trainer [Dave Snyder] trying to touch my left leg to make sure that I had some sensation.

We did first aid in the training room until halftime. I was kind of smiling about it when my girlfriend came in and my uncle came in, but when my teammates would come in checking on me, I couldn’t look at them. I just started crying. I was letting everybody down. I was letting myself down. I was letting that guy who always comes to the gym every morning, puts in so much work — I was letting him down.

I’m still thanking God for this day, that the result of the scan came back negative and all the blood vessels were fine. I went to get an MRI the next day. That was a Sunday morning. Then I was just waiting for my results. 

I had the coaching staff coming up to my house, checking on me. I had my teammates coming and checking on me. I remember around 4 p.m., I got a call from Coach Drew and our head athletic trainer telling me that I had torn at least five to six different tissues. And I literally asked them, ‘Uh, how bad is it?’ And he told me, ‘It’s really bad. Like, it’s really awful.’

The next day on that Monday at 9 a.m., I got a call from our athletic trainer telling me that I might need to have surgery ASAP because, ‘there’s a really strong possibility that you have nerve damage.’ So, from there, I was introduced to [Daniel E. Cooper, M.D.]. I heard a great deal about him. He’s really respected in his business, and I said, ‘Okay. I’m gonna have surgery there in Dallas.’ So, I got in the car with my girlfriend and we went to Dallas. I met with the surgeon, and he really comforted me. He really gave me a boost in terms of him telling me that this happened before. He had done this surgery. This is not the first time for him to have to deal with this, and, best case scenario, I can come back in eight months, and worst case or on average, I can come back in 18 months.

The next day, I believe it was a Tuesday, I was expecting the surgery to only last two hours, but it ended up being four and a half hours. I woke up and they told me, ‘The surgery went fine, but you still need to meet with the surgeon the next morning because he needs to talk to you.’ I know my girlfriend really well, so I can tell when she’s hiding stuff from me, and the truth that she didn’t want to tell me was that the surgeon told them that I had damaged my nerve.

It was about 12 to 15 centimeters apart. When I found it out that next morning, I literally was shattered. My world just collapsed. I’m pretty sure I cried for like three hours straight, and I couldn’t contain anything. After my first surgery… I believe that was probably the darkest time of my life.

The surgeon told me that he fixed my knee. My knee’s fine. Now, the next step is to have the surgery for my nerve. I had to just rehab my knee for three months before moving up my next surgery, which was on July 1. That’s when I met Dr. [James A.] Nunley in North Carolina. Meeting with him gave me hope. 

The day of the surgery, things went pretty well. He told me that my nerve was going to take some time to heal. There’s no set rehab for it. It’s more God’s timing, so I just have to keep on praying and just waiting on my nerve to snap back.

It’s crazy, because even to this day, I still go back to that same spot on the court where I got hurt, and I just sit down there and think, ‘What if I didn’t step this way? What if I didn’t step that far?’ It’s just crazy to see how a couple of millimeters or centimeters just can change your life. You’re probably going to ask yourself — or ask me — what is my timeline? My leg is healing faster than everybody thought it would, and I just thank God every day for that. But the truth is that this year, my goal is just to be as healthy as I can, and the truth is that I’m not gonna hang it up. I will be back as soon as I can. I don’t have a date. I don’t have a game, but I know for a fact that I won’t give up. So, as long as God doesn’t give up on me, I’ll be back on that floor.

The full video documentary of Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s testimony, including additional insights from Morris, Snyder, Baylor head coach Scott Drew and ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla, can be found on the Baylor Athletics YouTube page www.youtube.com/@BaylorAthletics.

Since April 2020, the Sic ’Em Podcast has offered long-form interviews with student-athletes, coaches, administration and support staff from across the Baylor Athletics department. Hosted by Morris, the series has built a catalog of nearly 100 episodes and over 50 hours of interview content. For more, visit baylorbears.com/podcast.