With his left eye still a little black and his schnozz still a little puffy and his ego still a little bruised from being told he looked like Hannibal Lecter (take a bow, Josh Chojnacki), Youngstown State senior Damian Eargle was ready for his first public comments since donating a pint of blood on the Beeghly Center floor on Feb. 10, courtesy of a UIC player’s elbow.
His first question: “How’s the nose feel?”
“Amazing,” he lied.
A few feet away sat his clear face mask, an ugly contraption that won’t help him with the ladies. (“Aw, I don’t care about how I look on the court,” he said. “Off the court, now that’s a different story”).
It will help him with men, though, particularly the ones with flying elbows.
Until last week, Eargle had never missed a basketball game due to injury. But a broken nose — it was fractured on both sides and the bone was sticking up toward his right eye — cost him two games of his final college basketball season. One of those was Sunday’s 17-point loss to Green Bay, the type of game that makes you consider asking the NCAA to extend Eargle’s eligibility for another, oh, four seasons or so.
“The second game, I could tell they needed me just a little bit,” said Eargle, who needed less than three seasons at YSU to become the Horizon League’s all-time blocks leader. “And it kind of hurt.
“I hate watching.”
Eargle had surgery four days ago. His first practice was Wednesday. He’s never played with a mask before. Another player might be tempted to take more time off. Not Eargle. Not with three regular-season games left.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t really care about the injury right now,” he said. “I’m almost done. I could only have four more games left. I’ve got to go out there and play my hardest.”
Saturday’s game will be his second-to-last at Beeghly Center — YSU will host a first-round Horizon League tournament game — and when asked if he planned on starting, he laughed and said, “I better start on Senior Night. I’m planning on starting. I’m planning major minutes.”
Eargle is YSU’s second-best player — junior Kendrick Perry edges him out — but he may be their most indispensable. He’s the league’s best defender, a player capable of manning the post, then stepping out and guarding the wings. He’s the ultimate eraser, covering for other players’ mistakes while allowing YSU’s guards to gamble in the passing lanes.
A Youngstown native (his oldest brother, Terrell, starred at Fitch), Eargle graduated from Warren Harding in 2008 and spent a year at UNC-Greensboro before transferring home. The Penguins went 2-16 in his first season. They’ve since put together back-to-back 15-win seasons for the first time in 28 years.
Eargle has been a huge part of that. He’s the hometown kid on the hometown team, a rarity for an area that produces more NFL draft picks than Division I basketball players.
“I’ll never play in this gym again on an NCAA level, so it’s going to mean a lot to me to make a statement before I leave,” he said.
An elbow won’t stop him. Neither will a face mask. His nose might be tender and his face might be sore, but don’t forget who you’re dealing with. If there’s one thing Damian Eargle is good at, it’s blocking things.
Pain, for instance.