Orono's Connor Robertson (center) puts up a jumper for two past Presque Isle during their Class B boys basketball quarterfinal game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Feb. 18, 2017. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

ORONO, Maine — Connor Robertson was attempting to make a hustle play as the Orono High School boys basketball team battled Presque Isle on Jan. 29. Rather than gain possession of the ball, his efforts produced a much less desirable outcome.

“I was going for a loose ball and caught feet with [Presque Isle center] Trace Cyr,” recalled Robertson, a 6-foot-3 forward. “I was going toward the free-throw line and reached my hand out and the next thing I knew I was on the ground in throbbing pain.

“I thought it was just a really bad knee contusion at first, but the next day when I got the results I was heartbroken. It was tough.”

Robertson suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, ending his junior season and leaving his basketball future at least somewhat in jeopardy.

The good news, from a second doctor’s opinion, was that surgery would not be required, but would be replaced by a rigorous rehabilitation schedule.

“It was monotonous, really tedious, just doing a lot of reps,” Robertson said. “I would go from 12 leg lifts in the first week to 15, and I would look forward to that. A couple weeks later I started jogging and I looked forward to jogging for three minutes instead of one. It was little stuff like that.

“Toward the end I was doing agility stuff and really getting a good sweat in.”

Robertson, a second-team Big East Conference all-star last winter despite the injury, was cleared to return to play in early May. He joined the Orono baseball team and resumed individual workouts with Matt MacKenzie of Results Basketball.

These days the only lingering sign of the injury is the black wrap around the once-injured knee, because Robertson has leading Orono to a 4-1 record good for a share of first place in Class B North, despite a 70-48 setback at Presque Isle on Saturday.

“It was a long journey, but he worked really hard,” said Ed Kohtala, who was named Orono’s new head coach in May after Jason Coleman left the post to become director of basketball operations for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.

“When Connor started playing with us last summer you could tell it took a while for him to get some confidence.”

That comeback reached a pivotal point during a late July game at Edward Little of Auburn, the 2018 Class AA state champion.

“One of the great things about that game was that there wasn’t time playing against those guys to think about the knee,” Kohtala said. “Connor just went out and played and had a great game. Not only was it a confidence boost, it really looked like he had his legs under him.

“Part of it was his conditioning because we were five weeks into the summer program, but at least in my estimation it was a sign of his confidence.”

Robertson could barely wait for his senior year of high school basketball to get started. And once it arrived he immediately showcased midseason form with a season-opening 31-point outburst against Ellsworth that included seven 3-pointers.

“I’ll always remember that game,” Robertson said. “I got in a rhythm and was knocking everything down. It felt really good.”

Robertson followed that with 36 points against John Bapst of Bangor before being limited to five points, 10 rebounds and three assists in a 52-41 win at then-unbeaten Winslow on Dec. 15.

“They made him work for anything he got, but he handled it,” Kohtala said. “What I thought was so great was that he was as happy and loud on the bus coming home from that game as he had been after scoring 31 and 36, and then I knew we were on the right track.”

Robertson, the son of former Mattanawcook Academy and UMaine center Curtis Robertson, was averaging 22.7 points per game before Saturday’s return to the scene of his injury at Presque Isle. He doesn’t see his role as purely a scorer for an otherwise youthful team that also starts juniors Sam Martin and Willem Crane and sophomores Jason Desisto and Zack Dill.

He also has considerable postseason experience to share as he was part of the Orono program when it reached the Class B North championship game in both 2016 and 2017.

“I see myself as a leader. I see myself hitting big shots. I just want to be the guy they can turn to when things aren’t going well,” Robertson said.

Most of all, Robertson is just glad to be back.

“It’s just a new fire you play with because you know any time you step on the court it could be a season-ending injury,” he said, “and it’s my senior season so I’m just going to step on the floor and play my butt off every single game.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...