Illness is never convenient, but the timing was downright cruel last month for Thomas Reuter.
The Eastern Washington sophomore forward and his teammates were in New York for a pair of Christmas week games against Seton Hall and Connecticut when Reuter suddenly fell ill.
After several days in a New York hospital, Reuter got the diagnosis: Crohn’s Disease, a gastrointestinal disorder that sometimes makes it tough for Reuter to get off his bed, much less jump off the bench at Reese Court.
Reuter had suspected for months that something was wrong, and it was almost a relief when doctors pinpointed the problem.
The worst part? “No more burgers,” said Reuter, a soft-spoken sophomore from Germany who lost a chance to play against UConn and German star Niels Giffey.
“I was really looking forward to that,” said Reuter, who also lost 20 pounds in the process; now he looks forward to the daily challenge of choosing the right foods. Milk is out, the same with cheese.
Eastern head coach Jim Hayford joked that “I thought you were going to eat the same thing every day.”
In other words, “a lot of chicken,” Reuter said. In the end, living with Crohn’s is just another adjustment for Reuter, one of Hayford’s key players off the bench. Last season, Reuter (pronounced “ROY-tur”) became acclimated to American culture and an unaccustomed spot on the bench, but persevered.
But that was the whole point: improvement, something he wouldn’t get in a European pro and semipro system that “is all about winning, not about player development. Coaches just want to keep their jobs,” said Reuter, adding that he wants to “go back and be an improved player.”
Reuter, who started playing at age 8 with two older brothers, landed in Cheney partly because a friend knew both Hayford and assistant Craig Fortier. A little web-surfing confirmed his instincts, though incomplete SAT results held up his arrival for a year.
An injury-plagued season in 2012-13 brought Reuter to the fore. Eventually he started 16 of Eastern’s 31 games and averaged 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds while playing 22 minutes.
Reuter, a psychology major, also was one of nine Eagles selected to the Big Sky Confernece All-Academic team.
“He had quality playing time as a freshman, and he had some standout games,” Hayford said. That included a last-second blocked shot that averted an upset loss to Idaho State at Reese Court.
“That felt great, but we should have won by 10 or 15 points,” Reuter said. “But that’s kind of my role: to make great plays. It’s not about scoring for me, but blocked shots and important rebounds.”
While coping with Crohn’s, he’s doing more of the same this year, averaging 3.3 points and 2.5 boards in 13 minutes per game. In a key home game against Montana State on Jan. 11, he logged 19 minutes, grabbed eight rebounds and scored the game-clinching points in a 77-72 win.
In other words, Reuter has his teammates’ backs, and they have his. “I fell like I can talk to them, that I can say I don’t feel good, and they encourage me,” he said.