In the Elite Eight of the 2022 NCAA National Championships, Villanova University defeated the University of Houston 50-44 and successfully advanced to the Final Four.
In the last minute of the game, Villanova player Justin Moore fell to the ground while trying to get the ball to the basket.
Severe pain quickly spread through his right leg, and in addition to the immediate fear, he also worried that he might miss next week’s Final Four game.
Moore’s teammates celebrated their hard-won victory minutes later as sheets of multicolored paper fell from the ceiling and landed on Moore’s face, tears streaming down his face.
The team traveled to New Orleans for the Final Four, and Moore had to undergo surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon that injured him.
A few days later, lying flat on his hospital bed at the Villanova Student Health Center, Moore felt that the anesthesia had not worn off.
As Moore contemplated the difficult road ahead, he received a text from head coach Jay Wright telling him he would soon receive a call from someone important.
Before Moore could respond to Coach Wright’s text message, a video call came in.
The caller is Kevin Durant!
"You come back in better shape, stronger than you’ve ever been," the future Hall of Famer told Moore, drawing on his nearly three years of experience from a torn Achilles.
It’s not the same as before, you can completely return to the state you used to be."
"Don’t worry, take your time."
Both Durant and Moore grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Moore attended Durant’s training camp as a child.
But now, in addition to these, the two have something more in common: in almost the same position on the court, suffered the same devastating injury in almost exactly the same way.
In the 2019 NBA Finals, the Warriors played against the Raptors in G5. Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon, and Moore suffered the same injury during the 4th NCAA final four in 7 years with the Villanova Wildcats.
The call from Durant revitalized Moore, and the pros and college players bonded as they battled injuries that once spelled the end of their careers.
"Durant’s been a powerful encouragement to me," Moore said with optimism in his voice, "a top basketball player, a player who has come back from an injury, told me I’m going to be fine."
Later, Durant recalled the call saying that he "just wanted Moore to know that I’ll be waiting for you in the NBA."
In 2020, Durant is still recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Dominique Wilkins said he hopes Durant can become a model for modern players to recover from this injury.
The one-time dunk Wilkins once suffered the same injury in 1992, but he only took 9 months to recover and return.
Durant did it, looking as unstoppable post-surgery as he did pre-surgery, and now he’s happy to help players who also need a long-term recovery.
"Durant really did it and became a model for coming back from this injury," Wilkins said. "We’re going to pass that torch on, and we have similar responsibilities in that regard."
"I knew what was going on when Moore went down," Durant told Coach Wright. "He looked exactly like me."
Durant wants Moore to realize his career isn’t over and the injury won’t affect his chances of making it to the NBA.
After all, Durant, Klay Thompson, Wall and many others have successfully returned from Achilles injuries.
"Moore’s career hadn’t even started," Durant said of Moore. "I was close to the end of my career. I could have just retired."
"I can mentally imagine what he’s been through and the worries he has about his future career. I just want him to relax first and let him know that he can get back his full strength, and that’s really the mentality that has to be crossed in the recovery process.
Durant vividly remembers the moment he learned he had actually torn his Achilles: Durant limped off the court and sat down on a practice table in the visiting locker room at Scotiabank Arena, home of the Raptors.
A trainer told Durant that now they were going to squeeze Durant’s calf to see if the foot responded.
Durant said: "So after seeing them grab my calf and press hard, my feet didn’t respond, and I couldn’t help but say fuck. I know the feeling, I can imagine Moore walking into the locker room.
And then, going through those emotional swings, trying to figure out what that situation meant for his career."
Last June, Moore posted a video of himself running on an anti-gravity treadmill 12 weeks after surgery on Instagram. Durant commented below: "Come on!" Two months later, Moore got the license to start running and jumping.
Permitted, he found Durant and asked how long it took Durant to allow his legs to easily complete these two actions.
Durant replied that it took about two weeks to run and jump with ease, adding that it was more of a mental hurdle than a physical one.