INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Vermont forward Josh Speidel felt right at home inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.
He hugged his former Indiana All-Star teammate Sean McDermott, who plays for No. 13 Butler. He traded fist bumps with the starters and jumped right into the pregame huddle, bouncing around with all of his teammates. The freshman even received a loud ovation from his home-state fans during a special pregame introduction.
For Speidel, it was almost everything he's envisioned - except that he sat on the bench Wednesday night in street clothes, sporting his trademark bowtie while cheering on his teammates.
That's the biggest role so far for the former Columbus North star since a car crash left him with a traumatic brain injury during his final prep season in 2015.
''I talked to (Butler forward Joey Brunk) already today and Sean messaged me on Twitter,'' said Speidel, who is rehabbing his way back from the injury. ''We've been talking and he had some smack for me, but I love it. It probably was me talking smack more than Sean, but he's good enough to take the fall for me.''
It's striking that Speidel was even here to joke given his long road back.
Four months after the February 2015 accident left Speidel in a coma, he attended his high school graduation. Last November, shortly after leaving the hospital, he sat on the bench with the Catamounts in a game at Purdue and was greeted with hugs from the Boilermaker players. He's been taking classes this fall, and now that finals are over, he can finally go home to his parents' house, about an hour south of Indianapolis.
Speidel plans to return to campus in early January.
But even though things didn't go well for Vermont on the court Wednesday night - Butler won 81-69 - his return to Indiana was a cause for celebration.
''There's no place like home,'' he said.
And he wanted to share the spotlight with three other Indiana players on the Vermont roster.
Speidel, a 6-foot-7 freshman who is on scholarship with the Catamounts, agreed to do two pregame interview sessions - if those three players could join him.
''It's a lot different this time, physically, mentally and spiritually (than at Purdue),'' Speidel said as pregame warmups continued at a venue where he once played summer basketball. ''I'm rehabbing every day now. It's a struggle sometimes.''
The team keeps him busy, too.
Speidel attends practices regularly and works out with the team trainer and in the weight room. He travels with the team when he can work it between classes and studies, and he flew to the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida last month.
Speidel acknowledges that while the recovery process is not yet complete, he intends to rely on the faith, work ethic and supporters who have helped him come this far to complete the journey.
''Through this whole thing, I don't like to say that I'm doing good or whatever. I don't like to say I'm going to do this or that,'' he said. ''I'm working hard. God has a plan and I just want to work hard to follow that plan.''
More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .