"When I first saw Geoff play as a sophomore in high school, I sensed something extra about the way he plays the game. He is what I consider a warrior. He looks for ways to help the team in any fashion he can."
- Mac Petty, Wabash head coach
Speaking of Sports: Soldier of Misfortune
It's hard to beat a person who never gives up," baseball legend Babe Ruth once said.
Wabash senior Geoff Faerber '98 (pronounced FAY-ber) exemplifies Ruth's statement. A 6-foot, 6-inch forward on the basketball team, Faerber has dealt with an unusual amount of adversity caused by four injuries over the past four years. But he has never walked away from the game, which makes it tough to find a more determined competitor or a stronger leader.
"When I first saw Geoff play as a sophomore in high school, I sensed something extra about the way he plays the game," says Wabash head coach Mac Petty. "He is what I consider a warrior. He looks for ways to help the team in any fashion he can."
Faerber has good basketball bloodlines. His father, George, was a three-year starter for the basketball squad at Purdue University and earned First Team Academic All-Big Ten honors in 1970 and 1971. George owns Purdue's second-best career field goal percentage, still holds the school record for most rebounds in one game by a junior, and finished his career by squaring off against Lew Alcindor and the great John Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins in the NCAA title game.
Like father, like son. Geoff was a four-year basketball letterman and two-time team captain at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. There, he was named the team's most valuable player as a senior after averaging 9.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He earned all-city and all-sectional honors twice before choosing to attend Wabash.
Faerber didn't miss a game during his high school career. But in the spring of his senior year, he suffered his first physical setback when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a pickup hoops game.
After working to get the knee back to full strength, Faerber made an impact as a freshman at Wabash and earned an immediate spot in the Little Giants' starting lineup. He was leading the team in rebounding, assists, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage through 13 games. But a broken foot brought his rookie campaign to an end.
"It was really a freak accident," said Faerber. "I had developed a stress fracture, which was bound to go at any time, but I tripped going down the steps after a game and that was that."
As a sophomore, he started 21 of 24 contests in what has been his only full season. Faerber led the squad with 5.6 rebounds per game and added 11.2 points per game, third best on the team. Most importantly, though, he improved both offensively and defensively, and asserted himself as one of the Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference's top forwards.
"During my sophomore year, I built confidence, but I don't think I reached my full potential as a player," said Faerber. "Heading into my junior year, I was feeling like I was finally getting back to the level that I am capable of playing."
Faerber opened his junior year with 18 points and eight rebounds in a win versus powerhouse Calvin and recorded a double-double in the fourth game of the year against Millikin. It was looking to be an outstanding season, but once again, the ACL in his right knee gave out, this time against Kalamazoo in the ninth game of the year.
Prior to the injury, he had been performing up to expectations. In fact, just a few possessions before it happened, he had taken the ball near the top of the key, driven to the basket, and dunked over some Hornet players. I was the sports information director at Kalamazoo at the time and assistant coach Rob Passage later remarked to me, "That kind of dunk is just not seen on the Division III level."
So it was back to square one for the hard-luck hoopster. At that point, it would have been very easy for Faerber to have given up, but the Little Giants were having their best season in more than a decade and he wanted to contribute to that success. He returned to appear in the final three contests of the season, which speaks volumes about his level of dedication and desire.
This season has brought more frustration. After starting the first two games of the season, Geoff began to experience pain in his back. The explanation was a slipped disk, a possible career-ending setback. This time, Faerber actually considered ending his playing days.
"The doctor said he couldn't really give me any hope and that it was sort of up in the air," said Faerber. "This injury was much different than the others. It didn't feel like I'd be able to come back."
So he talked it over with his parents, Pam and George, who were surprised that he was thinking of giving up the sport. It took a few days, but Faerber finally decided that it wasn't just the playing that he would miss.
"There's so much more involved with being part of a team than just playing the game," he added. "Plus, I didn't want my last game to be a four-point, two-rebound game."
The frustrating thing with his back was the fact that he was extremely limited in the activities he could do to help it heal without causing more damage. So he did what he could, riding an exercise bike and doing stretches, while watching and listening carefully to what was happening in practice.
Without much fanfare, Faerber returned to the lineup at Hanover College in the 16th game of the 1997-98 season, scoring four points and pulling down three rebounds in nine minutes of action. Ironically, it was Hanover that had vigorously recruited Faerber, making it sweeter for Little Giant fans when he made his return in that game.
"I was very nervous, but it felt awesome to be back on the court," said Faerber. "I had just been cleared to play that week and I didn't expect to get in the game, let alone be on the court for nine minutes. But it made me feel functional again. It made me feel more like a part of the team."
The following Wednesday, Faerber was rewarded for his fourth comeback when he received a heartfelt standing ovation from a large Chadwick Court crowd as he entered the game against arch-rival DePauw.
What Babe Ruth uttered so many years ago sure is true. It's hard to beat someone who never gives up. It's hard to beat someone with heart and desire.
That's why it's so damn hard to beat Geoff Faerber.