I had that feeling last week while watching Tennessee against Old Dominion. You know: The sad feeling of helplessness upon seeing what you suspect to be an ACL injury.
I used to go more wacko. It would be like this: See player go down with a knee problem during a televised game. Say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no!” See a replay of it. Say, “$@%!%@!” Repeat. Watch mildly alarmed dog trot to another room. Say, “I’m sorry” to dog for previous slew of curse words. Say, “I hate basketball.”
I don’t know if my slightly more muted reaction is due to getting older, or more mature (it’s probably NOT that), or just resignation that you can’t freak out over every ACL because there are too many. Whatever it is, when I saw Tennessee’s Shekinna Stricklen appear to be injured against ODU, I went straight into sad mode without the anger and cursing in between.
Announcer Debbie Antonelli, doing the TV broadcast, was upset, too. I think lots of women’s basketball fans are the same way as those of us who cover the sport. Fans are understandably more distraught when it’s a player from their team. But most fans are, like us in the media, really bummed no matter who it is or what team she plays for.
Stricklen went out of the game, and I immediately started wondering how Tennessee was going to compensate without her. She does so many things so well. She can handle the ball, initiate the offense, create her own shot, make a busted play work, rebound, keep possessions alive, play defense on guards and posts.
And since Tennessee is already without Vicki Baugh – who seems almost certain to redshirt the season as she recovers from knee surgery _ the additional loss of a player of Stricklen’s caliber would be very hard for even such a talented team to deal with. Further, women’s college basketball as a whole would lose one of the game’s rising stars, as was the case when UConn’s Caroline Doty suffered an ACL last season.
“This is just sickening,” I thought as Tennessee and ODU played on. “Stupid knees!”
I was speculating about what Tennessee’s rotations would be like without Stricklen … and then, with ice on her knee, she came back to the bench. Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean something good. But as the camera kept returning to the bench over the course of the game, it didn’t seem Stricklen was upset.
Then, after Tennessee’s victory, coach Pat Summitt indicated that she thought Stricklen was going to be fine. And we all saw that was the case Sunday, as Stricklen had a triple-double in Tennessee’s victory over Oklahoma.
I did not know, until this happened, that the program had only one of those previously in its history, that coming in 1985 by Shelia Collins.
I heard that and thought, “Seriously, how weird is this? A few days ago, at least for a little while, we were fearing Stricklen was out for the season. Instead, tonight she’s done something that only one other Tennessee player has done – and that was 25 years ago!”
I was so glad to see Stricklen out there that at some point I had to laugh at myself and say, “OK, it’s not like you thought she was dead but, amazingly, it turned out she wasn’t” … however, the huge sense of relief I felt is no doubt in proportion to how many times we are disappointed by knee injuries. We are conditioned to expect the worst.
We are so used to seeing a player go down, be helped off the court, hear a grim-faced coach say later, “We have to wait for the MRI …” and already know that it’s bad news. There was Exhibit A of that awful situation sitting on Oklahoma’s bench Sunday: Whitney Hand.
It was nice to be reminded by Stricklen’s situation that sometimes, thank goodness, it really isn’t as bad as it looks.
*-GROSS SCORES: We have a few of these every season, or sometimes more than a few. As bad as Baylor’s 99-18 atrocity with Texas State was, and as revolting as Duke’s 117-28 waste of everyone’s time against N.C. Central was, there is some sentiment that UConn’s 91-24 clobbering of Seton Hall was the worst of all. Because that was a conference game.
But UConn doesn’t have a choice about playing Seton Hall. Since N.C. Central and Duke are in the same city, perhaps one can see how there were at least good intentions about playing this game, especially coming off a holiday break. I still don’t think it should have taken place, but I can somewhat see why it did.
Similarly, Texas State and Baylor are only about two hours apart, so that’s a reason for this game to have been scheduled. I don’t like it, but it can be defended on geography grounds. And the dunks by Baylor’s Brittney Griner were exciting and came in the flow of play, which is great. But …
Watching the highlights of that game just made me uncomfortable. It’s not any fun at all to see players get humiliated. I wish that game had never happened, frankly.
*-FOSTER MILESTONE: Ohio State’s Jim Foster hit career win No. 700 with a victory over Northwestern on Dec. 31. That number – compiled in stays at St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State – speaks for itself in terms of his success coaching basketball.
But one thing that I’ve heard from Foster’s former players is that it’s always mattered to him what they learn besides just basketball while they’re participating on a team. He doesn’t want the athletes to leave college without having truly examined their own beliefs and attitudes about the world.
You can’t measure how a coach inspires players to develop their minds the same way you can measure victories. But if you could, the measurement would be even greater than 700.
*-MY VOTE: You’ll note that after a previous long post concerning Kansas looking ahead optimistically to the new decade, the Jayhawks lost their first game of said decade, at New Mexico State on Sunday. By the way, check out our ESPN.com looks at the various conferences as the new year begins.
- Connecticut, 2. Stanford, 3. Tennessee, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Baylor, 6. Georgia, 7. Duke, 8. North Carolina, 9. Texas A&M, 10. Ohio State, 11. Nebraska, 12. LSU, 13. Florida State, 14. Xavier, 15. Texas, 16. Vanderbilt, 17. Virginia, 18. Oklahoma, 19. Oklahoma State, 20. Georgia Tech, 21. Wisconsin-Green Bay, 22. Michigan State, 23. West Virginia, 24. James Madison, 25. Vermont