Redshirt-sophomore forward Andrew Garcia in 2016. Garcia will play for the first time in his Stony Brook career, after sitting out the last two years due to injuries. PHOTO COURTESY OF STONY BROOK ATHLETICS

Redshirt-sophomore forward Andrew Garcia has been a part of the men’s basketball team for all the highs, all the lows, all the practices, road trips and games —  solidifying his role as a leader in the eyes of his teammates.

Even if that means he hasn’t seen any game action for nearly two years.

“I’ve never had a major injury in my life,” Garcia said. “Coming from playing basketball in high school and playing basketball everyday during the summer, you have an expectation to contribute to your team everyday. But the only way to contribute is to be on the sidelines and take care of the guys.”

Garcia has been fully cleared to play this season for the first time in his Stony Brook career, after sitting out the last two years due to surgeries to fix micro fractures in his right knee. While his return to the court has already been hectic, he couldn’t be more thankful and excited to contribute this upcoming season.

“The coaching staff trusts me and they believe in my knee,” Garcia said. “They know I’m a hard worker and that I want to play and be on the court, but they’ve put that trust in me, whenever I have a good day or take that day to rest a little bit. Having the whole summer and preseason to get my timing down has been great too.”

Garcia’s injury history started back in high school, when he was a senior at The Master’s School in Connecticut. Recovering from his knee surgery cost Garcia his entire senior year. Yet, he was still recruited, and eventually signed, to the Seawolves.

However, the recovery process was another difficult challenge for the forward. He re-injured the same knee during the recovery process and had to get the same surgery again, causing him to miss even more time than initially expected.

While he has successfully recovered, Garcia is still adjusting to playing on a surgically repaired knee.

“One of the hard things is knowing when I’m actually hurt and knowing when I’m full-go,” Garcia said. “It’s still a little swollen, but keeping that toughness to work out and rehab is important, because if I miss one day, my knee can blow up and that could cost me two weeks.”

Garcia searched for advice facing the hardship of rehab yet again, finding solace from a confident Stony Brook Men’s Basketball head coach Jeff Boals.

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Boals said about Garcia’s progress. “He basically sat out two years essentially without practicing. It wasn’t fair to him last year, coming back in January. But he had a whole spring, summer and fall to work, shoot, get strong and confident. We’re really with what he’s been able to give us so far.”

Garcia battered down the hatches and got back to work with full support from his coach. The sophomore’s schedule included daily lifting, running and shooting. All throughout the summer, he was constantly in the gym doing his absolute best to get back to full health.

Right before training camp started for the Seawolves, he finally got the all-clear from his doctors to participate in all basketball activities.

“I just want to feel comfortable and have no worries out there,” Garcia said. “Playing at first, that’s what’s fun for me. I don’t care about the minutes, I don’t care about starting or anything like that. I care about winning. That’s always been my focus, so when I’m on the court, that’s my main goal, to win.”

While he has played more than 20 minutes in every game this season, Garcia is aware that being out of the game for nearly two years most likely means that he’s not going to perform at the level you did before an injury like his occurs.

The forward year and has been shooting exactly 50 percent from the field through his first two games. Despite those positive signs, Garcia has only averaged just above nine points per game. Still, Garcia is resilient. The forward knows that this team can be special and is excited for continuing to improve in practice and contribute to a team that is firing on all cylinders.

“Everybody is a threat on this team,” Garcia said. “All 12 guys we have can make an impact in some way. We’ve never had a full team that knows who the shooters are, who know their role, who don’t ball hog — there’s no energy vampires. Collectively, as a team, everybody knows what we want and everyone is for it. No one looks at the stats, they all look for the win.”