STILLWATER, Okla. — Tavarius Shine’s basketball future was in jeopardy one year ago.

A back injury derailed his season before December a year ago. However, he’s bounced back after a February surgery and become one of Oklahoma State’s strongest offensive weapons and toughest defenders.

“It feels great being back on the court, playing the game I love to play,” Shine said. “Just being out there makes me feel better, makes me happier. When you have something that you love taken away, it takes a lot from you, so it feels good to be back on the court.”

Shine’s return to the court and his performances have helped him earn the respect of first-year coach Mike Boynton.

“Tavarius is a guy I’m extremely proud of, personally, because to come back from what he came back from,” Boynton said. “Back surgery is pretty serious. I don’t know many people who have back surgery and then go play at the Big 12 basketball level, period. For him to come back, and quite honestly, in April or May, I wasn’t sure he’d come back at all. Psychologically, having gone through all of that and now he’s maybe playing for his third coach here, maybe he goes and tries something new.

“For him to be committed to this thing, and be on board with what I’ve tried to get him to do – I told him, ‘You might work your tail off all summer and never play.’ It’s a conversation we had. But I said, ‘If you work your tail off, I’m going to be there for you and I’m going to try to help you get through it.’ To his credit, he took all of that work and he made himself a player that can help us win, and obviously the results have shown.”

Shine’s junior season at Oklahoma State was shut down early. He played in only six games during the 2016-17 season in former coach Brad Underwood’s single year in Stillwater.

The Irving, Texas, native’s back had been causing him pain since at least the beginning of his sophomore season at OSU. Finally, the pain was too much and his season ended after the Cowboys returned home from the Maui Invitational in late November 2016.

Meanwhile, his teammates were continuing with their season after a 5-1 start with the only loss coming to eventual national champion North Carolina. The Cowboys continued on with their season, which ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a place OSU failed to qualify for during Shine’s sophomore campaign.

However, Shine missed the final 27 games.

“It got worse and better,” Shine said. “It would get better, but it’s an injury that I think you have to rest to see if it will go away on its own. It was just a nagging pain.

“Too much pain to play and it was best for me not to play. I have to think of my life after basketball. I have to think of myself sometimes, without trying to be selfish. I have to keep my health in mind.”

Shine was diagnosed with a herniated disk. After missing game after game and sitting out practice, he was finally given a diagnosis that just required rest and no basketball.

He was forced to end his junior season.

“That was one of the toughest, because having to just sit out and watch my brothers play – that was really tough,” Shine said. “Losses and wins were tough, but it felt better when they were winning, but when they lost it cut a little deeper. Just being away from the game – not being able to basically touch a ball. I was on bed rest. Basically, my life just kind of stopped for a little while before I could do anything.”

During the middle of the Big 12 slate, Shine had surgery on his back. He spent his 2017 Valentine’s Day undergoing surgery.

This meant more time away from basketball, but it also meant a possible cure to his injury.

Time away from basketball – a game Shine loves and has played most of his life – was difficult for the OSU wing who averaged 6.1 points per game, which nearly doubled his average from his first year on campus, as a sophomore. Shine admitted he went through a range of emotions, including moments of depression because you it’s tough when something you’re used to doing your whole life is taken away.

To help him through those difficult times, Shine had teammates around him during the basketball season. He also had someone much closer to him – someone who’s been with him his entire life.

His mother came to visit him and stayed with him the whole time he was away from basketball. Shine said his mother was able to continue her job while helping her son recover, physically and mentally.

“Man, I can’t thank my mom enough,” Shine said. “Not just through that, but my whole life. I can’t thank my mom enough. My mom has always been there for me. When I’m low, she always keeps me high. My mom means everything to me.”

Shine’s mother was also quite helpful mentally last year after the surgery. While he recovered from surgery, trying to gain his strength and mobility back, many thoughts went into Shine’s head.

Some of those might have included whether or not he would play basketball again. Others may have included if he would return to OSU for another year.

“There was a lot going on around that time, so I really didn’t know what I was going to do, to be honest,” Shine said. “I was just a little bit of everywhere. I was thinking so many different things and that’s when my mom came back in and said, ‘You need to focus on getting back on the court. That should be your focus. You don’t need to worry about where you’re going to be at or how you’re going to do come next season. You just need to worry about you and you getting back on the court.”

Before Shine decided whether or not he was continuing his collegiate basketball career, the Cowboys underwent a coaching change – second one in 13 months. If Shine was going to remain a Cowboy, he would be playing for his third coach.

OSU hired Boynton, who was an assistant coach on last year’s squad. It was his first head coaching job and he’d only been on campus for less than a year.

Yet, Shine felt comfortable with his new coach.

“I already knew him and I knew he was willing to help his players get better,” Shine said. “It wasn’t like he was somebody new. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him, but I watched him work with other guys on the team. I saw other guys and how happy they were when he got the job.”

Now that the Cowboys were once again secure at coach, it was time for Shine to find out if he could return to the court. He continued his physical therapy and recovery, looking forward to the day he could shoot a basketball again.

Shine’s doctor had a timetable set out before the surgery, but basketball actions were still weeks ahead. It took until late May or June before Shine could begin shooting a basketball. It started with shots next to the bucket and continued with free throws.

“I started really close to the basket – no jumping, no bending, nothing,” Shine said. “It was just touching the ball and shooting a little bit.

“It was great, because you see improvement. I was taking some steps and seeing improvement. Just to see the ball go through the net for the first time in a long time felt good. I knew I was on my way back.”

Shine’s health begin to improve and he did return to OSU for his redshirt junior season. He wasn’t guaranteed any playing time by Boynton.

However, Shine eventually earned his playing time this season. In the first two games of the season, Shine scored in double figures with 11 and 17 points, respectively.

He’s also scored in double figures in five of the past six games, with his season high of 20 points coming against Wichita State. Through 12 games, Shine is the Cowboys’ leading scorer with a 10.8 average.

“I just feel so much better,” Shine said. “Injury wise, my body just feels so much better. I don’t have that tightness or anything that I was feeling. I don’t have any of that pain and that helps me a lot so I can get in the gym and put in extra time so I can do extra things.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove. Coming off the injury and being away from the game for so long, I always have a lot to prove. No matter what level you’re at, everybody has something to prove. Even the best players, like LeBron, has something to prove every night, so if he has something to prove, I for sure have something to prove.”

While he may have something to prove, Shine has impressed his coach since returning to the court.

“He goes about this thing the right way every single day,” Boynton said. “He’s one of our leaders, for sure, because of his experience. He has a great appreciation for playing the game. It was taken away from him, unfortunately, last year and I think he knows that. Every single day, he goes out there and plays like this could be the last time. He doesn’t assume there are 20 more games to play.

“So, I’m really proud of him for fighting back the way he has, because as I’ve said before, I wasn’t sure he’d play basketball again, certainly not at the level he’s played at, and all of the credit goes to him for the work ethic he had in his rehab.”

As the season progresses, Shine will maintain his mental approach to the Cowboys and basketball in general.

“Even through the tough times, I always try to remind myself to have fun with it, because you never know when it’s your last time playing on the court,” Shine said. “So, I try to as much fun as I can.”

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