Christian Behrens fulfills promise after heartbreaking year
Two days after he underwent surgery to repair a shredded anterior cruciate ligament, the Tahoma senior's father died after a 16-month battle against brain cancer.
Seattle Times staff reporter
MAPLE VALLEY — The pain in his knee paled against the ache in his heart.
Christian Behrens believed his basketball abilities would come back. But his father was lost forever.
Two days after Christian underwent surgery to repair a shredded anterior cruciate ligament on Feb. 19, 2010, B.J. Behrens died at their Maple Valley home following a 16-month battle against brain cancer.
"He was my biggest fan," Christian said.
B.J. and Andrea, his wife of 20 years and mother to Christian and younger sister Rachel, were in the Tahoma High School stands on Jan. 12, the night the Bears took on Kentwood and 6-foot-10 center Joshua Smith. B.J. wore a helmet, protecting an opening on his skull where doctors had removed bone in an attempt to clean out a recurring infection.
Christian, then a 6-8 junior who had begun to make a national mark for himself the summer before, hustled back on defense as Smith got out on a fast break. Suddenly, with no contact, his left knee gave way and Christian tumbled toward the gymnasium wall. He felt and heard a "pop" and his season was over.
By the time his knee was ready for surgery, his father was receiving home hospice and the family camped by his bedside. B.J., a humorous man who loved sports and spending time with his wife and kids, died in the early hours of Feb. 21. He had turned 53 the month before.
Christian poured himself into his rehabilitation, feeling lost without two of his loves.
"It was tough because I couldn't play basketball and my dad wasn't there," he said.
After a solid sophomore season at Tahoma, where he averaged 20.5 points on a 1-19 team, Christian earned notice with the AAU Rotary 17-and-under team. He started alongside Smith, Tony Wroten Jr. (Garfield), Gary Bell (Kentridge) and Lavelle White (Rainier Beach). Everyone was expecting big things from him as a junior.
"I thought he was getting ready to have a real breakout year," Rotary coach Daryll Hennings said.
Through the first 10 games, he averaged 22.4 points and 12.8 rebounds. Then came the injury.
Christian pushed himself as much as possible. He began physical therapy and was told he could start practicing again on a limited basis in six months and resume playing in nine. He progressed quickly enough to actually start playing at the six-month mark. In between, he attended all of Tahoma's summer practices and games and served as somewhat of an assistant coach.
And all the while, he missed his father.
"I think he showed tremendous character to be able to handle everything he did last year," Tahoma coach Rob Morrow said.
Christian was just 15 when B.J. started experiencing headaches and a loss of focus. An MRI in October 2008 showed two brain tumors.
"And that was the start of our nightmare," Andrea said.
She and B.J. didn't immediately tell Christian and Rachel of the severity of the situation, but a few days later they had a family meeting and B.J. explained what he'd been told to that point, vowing everything would be OK.
That was before the surgery that led to the devastating news that B.J. had Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme with only 12 to 16 months to live. Christian was in the hospital room with his mom when the surgeon blurted out the prognosis.
"We all broke down with shock and disbelief," Andrea said.
B.J.'s younger brother had died in 2003 after being diagnosed with a similar tumor.
B.J. battled, but suffered two infections, the first of which delayed chemotherapy. Andrea sometimes spent days at the hospital, while Christian and Rachel (then in sixth grade) focused on school and sports.
As a junior, Christian quickly established himself as one of the elite players in the ultra-tough South Puget Sound League 4A North Division before the injury.
Although he was able to play when this season started, Christian didn't really regain his form until January. He has scored 21 or more in all seven of Tahoma's games since the start of the new year and on Saturday put together career highs in both points (32) and rebounds (18). Many opposing coaches call him their toughest matchup with his ability to score inside and out.
"He often requires double and triple teams to keep him in check," Auburn's Ryan Hansen said.
Recruiting interest has rekindled and the 6-8 Behrens has offers from Portland State, Seattle University and Eastern Washington. With 1,230 career points, he needs 89 over Tahoma's final three games to become the school's all-time leading scorer.
But Christian's motivation runs deeper.
"I know he's watching me," he said of his father. "I know he's looking down on me. I know he's proud and that's what I'm trying to do every day in whatever I do, make him proud."
Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or email@example.com
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