Basketball Team's Success Is A Joint Effort
By Martha Michael
Photo: Dr. Erika Henry of The Joint in Sandy Springs, Ga., shows off a model spine to Combine Academy coach Matthew Morris (center) and player Oisin Kerlin.
They come from many different countries and speak dozens of languages, but when the 16 members of the Combine Academy basketball team get to Dr. Erika Henry’s office, they’re as united as they are on the court.
Their common goal? Staying healthy.
For the past six months, “Dr. Erika,” as the young men call her, has been teaching the college-aged athletes a language as foreign to them as their native countries are to us. Like running a play, the team's weekly visits to The Joint Chiropractic in Sandy Springs, Georgia has become a trusted routine, offering them the chance for alignment, a check of injuries and a feeling of wellness.
It was a brand new experience for Jure Prus of Slovenia, a 19-year-old point guard and shooting guard who speaks three languages, but laughed the first time he heard the word "chiropractor."
"First of all, she introduced us to her work and then she took time for every individual," Jure says. "I have to say that I knew she was an expert at her work from the very first moment."
Treating athletes is nothing new to Dr. Erika, but the Combine Academy is the first group of players to show up for appointments en masse, which was no small matter; their heights ranged from 6 feet 1 inch to 6-feet-10.
"The team would arrive in their bus, they would pull up to the front and the players would all unload," Dr. Erika says. "It was fun, even for our other practice members, to see these athletes walking single file into our office. It would catch the attention of neighboring businesses, as well -- some of the managers stopped by to inquire about the bus."
It was the team's coach and general manager of Combine Academy of Atlanta, Matthew Morris, who partnered with The Joint to arrange weekly visits for chiropractic care. The aim of the international basketball program is to enable high school graduates to gain exposure to college recruiters through an intensive schedule. Combine Academy plays a national level schedule in front of college coaches on the NCAA Division I, II, III, NAIA, junior college, community college, and Bible college levels. So, as the NCAA tournament gets under way this week to determine the Final Four and a National Champion, the players will have a definite interest in March Madness.
"I think it’s decreased a lot of the aches and pains and the injuries associated with basketball," Morris, a standout at Clemson University, says of the chiropractic care his players receive. "If we didn't have this relationship with Dr. Erika, those problems would get a lot bigger. Most of the time it's joint pain or soreness."
With so much at stake, such as a college scholarship, Morris doesn't want anything holding back his players. He says the chiropractic treatments work as a preventative measure, considering team members practice and train about four hours a day for six months. At the end of the month, they will return to their 12 home countries as far away as New Zealand to the south and Turkey to the east, bringing with them an understanding about chiropractic care based on the benefit they've experienced at The Joint.
Several players have told Coach Morris the visits help them physically, sometimes with previous conditions. One of the players has a knee injury from a broken leg.
"A big reason why he’s back to speed is that Dr. Erika's been working with him," Morris says. "And I know one of our kids had some lower back issues and it's a necessity for him to go."
It was an ACL (knee) injury seven years ago that caused chronic lower back pain for Rom Itskovich, 18, a guard who must rely on quickness to succeed. He's well-acquainted with chiropractic treatment because it's what enabled him to regain and maintain the strength he needed to pursue his athletic goals. He sees its benefit to him personally and says the team visits to The Joint serve as a kind of full-court press against injuries.
"It makes us more aware as a team about taking care of our bodies," Rom says. "When we go to practice, we remember what Dr. Erika told us. It keeps us conscious of how important it is to give back to our bodies for what we're taking from them, from how hard we're working."
Originally from Israel, Rom was introduced to the program by Morris while playing for his high school basketball team in Las Vegas, where his family lives. Other than a couple of games at the beginning of the season, Rom has consistently been able to perform without pain, which he attributes to visits to The Joint.
"Chiropractic helps the body to function at its optimum," Dr. Erika says. "By improving restricted joint movement in the spine and extremities, doctors of chiropractic are able to take pressure off of the nervous system, which allows the brain to communicate to the body more effectively, helping to improve flexibility, decrease pain and improve strength. In an effort to prevent sports-related injuries, athletes are turning to chiropractic care."
With a team like the Combine Academy, where "traveling" means more than just a rules violation on the court, chiropractic care may have some challenges. But such a preventative measure is a smart part of any game plan, and Dr. Henry is happy to play a small role in the team's success. After all, wellness is a good idea in any language – and any sport.