NEW PALESTINE — Cody Long was so nervous, he could feel his body shaking from head to toe.

Draped in his familiar red and white New Palestine uniform, a jersey he’s worn countless times, the senior forward felt slightly out of place. This Saturday night — Brody Strong (Stephens) Night at the high school — Long was more anxious than ever.

This night was special. And the Dragons Den was packed.

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“The atmosphere was huge,” Long said. “I told coach (Trent Whitaker) I would be more comfortable coming off the bench. I had so many nerves after not playing for so long.”

After missing nine games, Long was finally back. A trip to the doctor revealed a stress fracture in his lower left foot (fourth metatarsal bone) after aggravating it during warm ups in late December at the New Palestine Holiday Tournament.

For the first time in his prep basketball career, Long would have to spectate from the sidelines.

“It was tough, especially being a senior,” Long said.

After working on his shooting form while unable to compete in practice, Long put his hard work to good use that memorable Saturday evening (Feb. 12), scoring a season-high 23 points in his return while securing a Hoosier Heritage Conference win against Shelbyville.

“It was incredible,” Long said. “I worked as hard as I could. What I did in the gym showed up on the court.”

Before the injury, the lanky wing forward was leading the Dragons in scoring and rebounding at 9.6 points per game and 5.5 boards per game.

Now, though, after missing a large chunk of New Palestine’s schedule, Long is averaging 12.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game for the season, with an apparent chip on his shoulder, and eager to lead the Dragons into sectional play tomorrow at home.

New Palestine will play Indianapolis Crispus Attucks at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first contest of the evening. The winner will play either Indianapolis Marshall or Indianapolis Emmerich Manual, which play second on Wednesday.

And since that night against the Golden Bears, Long has been just what the Dragons needed all season — a steady force in the paint. The 6-foot-5 senior followed his season-best performance up with four straight double figure outings. Most recently, he scored 19 points in a big, confidence boosting win over Greenwood.

In his last five games, Long is pouring in 17.2 points per game.

“Since Cody has been back from his injury, he has been very aggressive scoring the basketball and on the glass,” coach Whitaker said. “Watching (the game) while out with the injury gave him a different perspective of the game and it has benefited his play.”

For the season (13 games), Long is shooting 59 percent from 2-point range. He also is making the game easier for teammates, Whitaker added.

But what the first-year head coach has been impressed with the most, rather than his consistent play on the court, has been Long’s attitude through a time far from ideal.

“Cody has definitely been a leader for us on and off the floor this season,” Whitaker said.

Behind the numbers

Cody Long New Palestine Senior Forward

17.2 points per game since return (5 games)

Season statistics

12.5 points per game

7.2 rebounds per game

0.8 blocks per game

59 percent 2-point FG %

Season high 23 points in win against Shelbyville

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.