Vermont's Josh Speidel overcomes traumatic brain injury to score first career points

Josh Speidel makes debut, scores first points on UVM's Senior Night (1:54)

Vermont senior Josh Speidel was a highly touted prospect before a car accident derailed his college career. Speidel is honored by scoring his first career basket on the first possession of the game and receives a loud ovation from the crowd. (1:54)

Five years ago, Josh Speidel suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident when he was a senior in high school, shortly after the former prep standout and three-star recruit committed to playing for Vermont.

On Tuesday, Speidel made his first Division I start, on Senior Day, and he registered the first points of his collegiate career in a matchup against Albany.

In a prearranged moment, Speidel scored on his team's first possession.

With 19:40 on the clock in the first half, Speidel caught a pass from teammate Everett Duncan, took one step and scored off the backboard.

Players from both Vermont and Albany hugged Speidel before he went to his bench and hugged every player and coach. He also shared a moment with Albany coach Will Brown.

"I did it, I'm a college basketball player," Speidel said after Vermont's 85-62 victory. "I scored in a college basketball game.

"You can't take that away from me. I'm just so forever grateful."

Speidel joked that he considered missing his shot -- if only for the chance to add to his stat line.

"I was thinking of maybe missing it, maybe to get an offensive rebound in there," he said. "But I figured I might as well go 1-for-1 and shoot 100% in my college career."

It was a remarkable scene for those who have followed his journey. Lisa Speidel, his mother, said she cried when she saw her son run onto the court for warm-ups on Tuesday.

"When we walked into the gym, it felt like everything we'd imagined it would feel like," she said. "We're so proud of Josh, just hanging in there and working as hard as he has. He looked as good as I thought that he would in his uniform."

She said she remembers racing down the highway with her husband, David Speidel, to get to a hospital in Indianapolis to see her son on Super Bowl Sunday in 2015, the night of Josh's accident.

"We were praying on the way, and we go, 'God, he's yours,'" David said.

At the time, Josh was a standout player, averaging more than 28 points per game at Columbus High School in Columbus, Indiana.

When his parents reached the hospital, doctors told them that Josh had nearly lost his life and that the prognosis for the future was not bright. Josh was in a coma for five weeks. Doctors told his parents to prepare for their son living in a vegetative state and needing 24-hour care for the rest of his life. He would never read above a fourth-grade level, they said.

On the Glasgow coma scale, which doctors use to track the extent of brain injuries, anything eight or lower is considered to be a "severe head injury," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Josh, on the night of his accident, was a four on that scale, according to his parents. Yet, they kept their faith.

"We knew God had us," Lisa said. "We decided that we were going to believe differently than what the doctors were telling us."

This year, Josh will graduate with a 3.4 GPA.

Five years ago to the day was a milestone for the family. It was the first day Josh sat up in bed so his mother could hug him. From that difficult chapter to Tuesday's events highlighted the miraculous improvement Josh has made.

He heard enormous applause as the announcer called his name before the game.

"It's a dream come true to look in the box score seeing No. 32, Josh Speidel -- it's a dream come true, and I couldn't be more happier," Josh said.

His parents said they thrived on their faith. But on their toughest days, their son helped them stay positive. He worked so hard to reach this moment, they said.

Josh's journey, Lisa said, should inspire others to keep going, even in their darkest times.

"We want people to have hope," she said. "Just that reminder, you know, don't give up."