A story of recovery: Khalif Battle’s comeback

Temple Men’s Basketball’s Khalif Battle is making his return to the floor after his injury last season.

Redshirt-sophomore guard Khalif Battle broke his fifth metatarsal in his left foot at the end of last year. ERIKA MONN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University redshirt-sophomore basketball guard Khalif Battle is one of the few faces on Main Campus that students and faculty alike can usually recognize. Whether in the Howard Gittis Student Center, Richie’s Cafe or the Liacouras Walk, not many students have the campus notoriety like Khalif Battle. 

Battle has more than 15,000 followers on Instagram and was one of the first Temple athletes to release their own clothing line, his brand being “Battle Tested.” As he improved during his first two years with the Owls, he found himself in a position where he had the following to market himself instead of relying on outside help. 

Battle suffered a broken fifth metatarsal on Dec. 1, 2021, which cost him the final three months of last season. During the following months, his journey back onto the hardwood has been one big testament to the guard’s motivation to succeed. Battle has worked hard to fast track his recovery from the moment he went down, returning to the team a month sooner than expected. 

Redshirt-sophomore guard Khalif Battle found inspiration in playing through the pain. ERIKA MONN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The start

Sophomore Khalif Battle attended Trenton Catholic High School and hails from Hillside, New Jersey, an hour and a half drive from Temple. His brother, Tyus, played basketball at Syracuse University and is now a member of the Israeli Premier League. Basketball is the only sport that 6’5 Battle has known, originally committing to play at Butler University after being ranked as a top-100 prospect coming out of high school, according to ESPN. 

Battle was in the midst of one of the best basketball seasons being played in the American Athletic Conference, let alone the country, at the beginning of the 2021-22 season. 

He was scoring with ease at every level, knocking down key crunch-time threes, working inside with a mix of dunks, lay-ups and floaters while also showing off a quality mid-range game. While Temple was playing solid basketball as a team, Battle’s absence left a hole on the team as he led Temple in three-pointers made prior to injury. 

Temple played La Salle University on Dec. 1 on their home floor in what should have been an easy game for the Owls due to La Salle’s 2-3 record, but the 73-57 scoreline and jump in the win column did not reflect the Owls’ key loss that game.

The moment

Khalif entered the game leading the conference in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game. He left the game with his head down after stepping on the foot of La Salle junior guard Josh Nickelberry, yet he was still ready to continue Temple’s grind for a March Madness berth. He returned to the game after the next TV timeout, too. He thought that maybe the injury was just a tweak, Battle said. 

Once Battle met with athletic trainer A.J. Garcia and a nearby surgeon, Temple Athletics sent out a press release Dec. 2 announcing that Battle would miss the remainder of the season after suffering a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot during the game. 

“KB, he’s a hard worker, he just wants to go and get better whenever he can,” said head strength and conditioning coach Allen Son. “So it was kind of hard for him to wait after the surgery. He really pushed through a lot of stuff.”

Along with the injury came the information from the doctor, followed by the sadness that overcomes anybody when they hear the worst possible news in a given scenario. His personal reaction mirrored that of the campus as a whole when the news broke – heartbreak. 

Battle was growing as a fan-favorite with his play, so for Temple fans, this injury crushed many dreams the team had of reaching the elite level they wanted. Students took to Instagram to send their prayers to Battle and as winter break approached, Temple basketball had lost some of its excitement. 

When Battle left for the locker room, Liacouras Center was quieter than usual. It was the same sense of quietness Battle felt when he entered most rooms for the following few weeks. 

The impact

The next time anyone saw Battle on campus, he wore a boot on his foot and his left knee resting on the pad of a scooter, being helped along by team manager Shea Avellino. 

“He was very resilient throughout his recovery,” Avellino said. “If it was during practice or games I would push him around or get him crutches whenever he needed it. Whenever he wanted to get shots up I was always there to rebound for him. I was always there to get him back on his feet and trying to keep it positive, making his recovery as quick as possible.”

Battle was in the gym with his scooter, getting shots up with form instead of his typical dribble packages in the days following his surgery. 

He was sad once the realization set in that his season was done, but he kept a driven outlook towards the prospects next season could hold. 

Battle worked to maintain strength in his body while also keeping up with fundamental skills. He was able to get stronger and improved his shot at the same time. 

“Just having a plan for his return was really important,” said assistant coach Chris Clark. “Our strength and conditioning coach Allen Son and athletic trainer A.J. Garcia, those two got together and got the plan in place.”

Battle found solace in the moment he felt the burst of pain in his toe because of his willingness to always continue working hard. He relives the planting of his foot on top of the defender’s and his will-power to continue the season as a force of motivation. 

“I was heartbroken,” Battle said. “I felt like I hit rock bottom, I was probably at my second-lowest state in life. But it was just about being positive and being there for my teammates first.”

The comeback

Battle did not make his entire recovery process public, but the glimpses seen by fans led to some quality clips, making more headlines than the injury itself. 

Battle was seen on his scooter, shooting jumpers in an empty gym as seen in Twitter posts from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sam Cohn and retweeted by sports social media company Overtime. Battle also posted shots from around the arena to his Snapchat story, and a confidence around his recovery grew from the public. 

“Him keeping his mind right, keeping a positive attitude, it was awesome seeing him get his shots up and staying with his touch,” Avellino said. “He was always working hard, staying along with the process and not falling behind throughout it.”

His smile lit up the camera with a positive disposition, a stark contrast to the face of Battle seconds after he left the game on Dec. 1, one of pure agony. 

During the course of seven months, Battle recovered from the toe injury and the clips became ones of him fully dunking with ease. He looked stronger, more mobile and quicker than before in videos of him doing windmills and reverse jams on social media.

His teammates are excited to share the floor with him once again, too. 

“I really feel like, with this being one of our last years, just talking every day about how to stay healthy,” said guard Damian Dunn, a preseason first team All-AAC redshirt-sophomore. “Just getting reacclimated to playing together again, to play a full season together is something we’ve been talking about for a long time.”

The confidence

At the end of the 2021-22 season, Battle committed to the NBA Draft. He put his name in the pool of players ready to take the next step, but some fans expected him to return to Temple given his unfinished business with the program, and the desire for a desire for a trip to March Madness. 

“I wanted to see if I could get some draft feedback and get some workouts,” Battle said. “I always had an intention to come back to school.”

Battle’s confidence allowed him to be the elite player he is. He wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line, and he believes he has what it takes to reach the next level when the time is right, Battle said. 

In his absence, players like Jourdain, Dunn and Jahlil White stepped up in big ways. And with an offseason focus of rekindling their already strong chemistry with Battle, along with the addition of Jamille Reynolds from the University of Central Florida and Shane Dezonie from Vanderbilt University, Temple can truly become a force to be reckoned with. 

During the winter of the 2022-23 Temple basketball season, fans can expect Battle, a preseason second-team All Conference honoree, to be dialed in. He is confident that his recovery has made him an even better player. 

“I’m ready to play,” Battle said. “We want to win as many games as possible. I want to be the best player in the country.”

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.