Wil Bathurst wondered if his basketball playing days were over.
The 2014 Olean High graduate’s senior season at Cornell got off to a promising start. Bathurst started the first six games for the Big Red this past winter, averaging 8.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. But a torn labrum in his left shoulder forced him to miss the rest of what was supposed to be his final college season.
“Luckily I had played in the certain amount of games where I was able to maintain the year of eligibility,” Bathurst said. “The Ivy League has the rule that grad students can’t play … so I had to pack up and find a new home.”
He found one in the Deep South.
Bathurst on Tuesday decided to continue his career as a graduate transfer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The former Big 30 Player of the Year and New York Mr. Basketball finalist will have one season of eligibility at UAB and can play immediately.
“I was fortunate enough to have the Ivy League education to fall back on,” Bathurst said, “but then once I found out that I was going to be able to play, it turned into a really exciting opportunity to further myself for another year and get another opportunity to play the game that I love at a high level.”
The 6-foot-3 guard visited UAB Sunday and Monday following a stop at North Carolina Central. He ultimately picked the Blazers, members of Conference USA.
UAB went 20-13 last season, earning coach Robert Ehsan a contract extension after two seasons. Bathurst, who will enroll in the school’s MBA program, liked the opportunities the basketball program presented.
“Of course, I want to go to a team that’s going to get wins,” he said. “I value team basketball, I value winning, so that was a big part of it.
“And also just the opportunity not to be guaranteed a starting spot or guaranteed X amount of minutes but just an opportunity to come in and prove my worth. They lost basically all their guards besides one that played significant minutes last year, so they’re bringing in a lot of new guys. I think they said I’ll be the eighth new guy that they’re bringing in, and their coach was telling me basically that the positions just are up for grabs. It’s going to be whoever comes in and competes and earns that spot.”
Having never before been to Alabama, he also enjoyed his visit to Birmingham.
“It was a lot different than what I expected, honestly,” he said. “Once we got down there, it was really nice. It’s a pretty big city, very modern feel, very diverse, which I was impressed with, and even the school, UAB itself, (is) 35 percent African-American. Everybody was very friendly, very nice, and I felt comfortable the whole time.”
At Cornell, Bathurst morphed into the team’s starting point guard by his senior year. It wasn’t a role he ever expected to hold. But the transition came about following a coaching change after his sophomore year. Cornell hired Brian Earl, who played at Princeton and coached there as an assistant for nine years. With the Big Red, Earl instituted the famed Princeton offense.
“When he got there, I was playing my natural position, the wing,” Bathurst said. “We had a lot of guys at that position and it turned out that they were playing a lot, so at the beginning of my junior year, I wasn’t playing much.
“Then our main point guard was more of a scoring point guard, and that’s just not how the Princeton offense is. He wanted to move him off the ball a little bit, he was trying a couple guys out, and he was like, ‘Wil, have you ever played point guard before?’ and I was like, ‘No.’ He was like, ‘Alright, well I just want you to start working at it and just see what you can do.’ It turned out that I had a knack for it.”
And Bathurst believes he could play the position at UAB as well.
“They like the fact that I bring a versatility to the table and kind of an unknown factor because they’ve only seen me play on film,” he said.
Bathurst had surgery on his shoulder Jan. 4. He’s spent the past five months rehabbing for a return to the court.
“They say it’s a six-to-nine-month recovery,” Bathurst said, “but I met with their trainer (at UAB), he did some tests with me and he’s like, ‘Whatever you’ve been doing has been working really well, the strength is coming back, your range of motion is very good.’ He feels as though I’ll be able to jump into contact around mid-July, early August at the latest. I feel really good about that.”
Most of all, he’s excited to have the chance to play again.
“A lot of other players who are very talented just see their careers cut short by injury,” Bathurst said. “For me to get this opportunity to rehab and come back and hopefully have a great last season, I couldn’t be more grateful.”