For those who have never heard the story of Vermont senior Josh Speidel, it is well worth hearing. Josh, a 6’7 forward out of Columbus, Indiana, was one of John Becker and the Catamounts’ top recruits in 2014. On February 1, 2015, Josh was involved in a severe car accident that left him in a coma for four weeks. Suffering a traumatic brain injury and other bodily injuries, Speidel was told he might never walk again, let alone play basketball. They also told him that most likely, he will never learn above a fourth-grade level. Josh is ready to prove his doctors wrong on both fronts in the upcoming months. For avid college basketball fans, you know the dominance that Vermont has had in the America East for the past decade, rising as one of the best mid-major programs in the country. Many ask how Vermont does so well year in and year out, and the story of Josh Speidel gives us some answers.
A couple of days after the accident, coach Becker flew out to Indiana in the middle of his conference schedule to visit his top recruit in the hospital. It was known at the time that most likely, Josh was never going to play basketball again, but Becker went out anyway to visit with his parents and check-in. During his visit, Becker made it very clear that Vermont would still honor Josh’s scholarship and would welcome him to Burlington with open arms whenever he was ready.
Josh spent the next 117 days in the hospital working on his rehab and getting in stable condition to be released. After returning home, he walked- with help- at his high school graduation. Taking a year off before going up to Vermont for his freshman year, Josh spent the year as a classroom assistant at Brown Elementary in Seymour, Indiana, where his mom is the principal. During that year, he continued his rehab, making unbelievable progress. In the fall of 2016, Josh enrolled at the University of Vermont, where he joined coach Becker and the rest of the Catamount basketball team. He has spent the last four seasons as an active participant on the team and an everyday student at the University. After being told that he would never learn at higher than a fourth-grade level, Josh is set to graduate from the University this spring in high standing – Josh entered his senior year with a 3.4 GPA, which is no small feat for a student-athlete, let alone someone who has been through everything Josh has. Not only has Josh worked extremely hard in the classroom, but he has worked unbelievably hard on the court and in the weight room. After being told he would probably never walk again, Josh is now running and shooting. He is set to take the court for the first time on senior night at Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington against Albany.
There are two things I want people to take away from Josh’s story. The first is never to underestimate the heart of an athlete. When one has a dream and a desire, they can overcome even the worst of odds. What Josh has done is extraordinary. The kid that was told he would never learn at higher than a fourth-grade level is graduating in 4 years from a highly respected university with a double minor. The kid that was told he would never walk again will be taking the court for his senior night in a Division I basketball game for one of the best mid-major teams in the country.
The second thing I want people to take away from Josh’s story is Vermont is as good as they are because of the culture that John Becker has created at Vermont. It isn’t just a winning culture, it is a family. Unless you are a college athlete, it is very difficult to understand what it means when athletes say it more than sports. John Becker cares about his players, and he cares about developing young men. I can tell you first hand when you have a coach that you know will have your back and look out for you like you’re his son you will do anything for that coach. At Vermont, it is more than basketball, and that’s why parents like Josh’s trust Coach Becker to take care of their kids halfway across the country.