Friday night, FGCU sophomore basketball player Whitney Knight will play her first game after suffering a torn ACL and having to sit out all of last year.
“It was preseason workouts the week before practice,” Knight said. “I had the ball in my hands dribbling up the court and I changed my pace pretty fast and I planted my foot one way and I went the other way, and my knee twisted in and out and I screamed and fell on the floor and everybody was quiet. I could tell by how quiet it got that something was wrong, even though I didn’t want to believe it.” The worst happened for Knight. As she was taken to trainers she was told that they believed it was an ACL tear in her left knee. She received an MRI and she got the news. Most athletes who suffer ACL tears have a timetable of 12 to 15 months for recovery. She had season, ending surgery and had to utilize a medical redshirt.
“I was devastated,” Knight said. “I was depressed for a while. I was really sad not being able to play. But my teammates picked me up and kept telling me that I was going to get back out on the court, and they really lifted my spirits up.”
Knight, a 6-foot-3 guard out of Winston Salem, N.C., was rated as high as 19th nationally at the guard position and 73rd overall in the recruiting class of 2011 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz. She averaged eight points in 17 minutes per game. She earned A-Sun All-Freshman team honors. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the team’s end-of-the-year banquet. She finished the season ranked first on the team, second in the conference and 68th in the nation with 1.7 blocks per game, which placed her second in the single-season FGCU record books. “You’re just really disappointed anyone has to go through a serious injury like that,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said. “You never want to see anyone go through it, but you know it’s definitely possible to come back as good if not better than before.” A year removed from her surgery Knight has been cleared to play by FGCU trainers and the women’s basketball team.
“It’s a tough thing to come back from both physically and mentally,” assistant athletic trainer intern Brittany Loring said. “You have to rebuild your knee, essentially, and it can be scary getting back out there.” Loring mentioned that the toughest part of returning from a knee injury is the mental side. Most players, when they get back on the court, are scared and don’t play like they used to.
“When I first got here after summer, I was kind of timid on my knee, but then I told myself that I was fine and I’m better, I’m going hard, I’m hungry, we have things to accomplish,” Knight said.
Smesko also agreed that Knight isn’t afraid to play like she used too.
“Whitney’s recovery has been impressive to this point. She’s not afraid to attack,” Smesko said. “A lot of the time it’s the mental issues that are hardest to come back from, but I don’t see any signs of her mentally not being able to do anything.” Besides getting over fears on the court, Knight had to go through a vigorous rehab to get her knee stronger than it was before. “I think my knee is actually stronger than it was,” Knight said. “That’s helped me a lot with my confidence, not being timid on it. I think what I went through has made me better.”
Smesko believes her rehab has actually made her a more physical player. “She’s definitely a better player than she was her freshman season,” Smesko said. “That was one of her weaknesses. She had a lot of skill but she could get knocked around a little bit and there’s just been a dramatic increase in her physical strength. She’s finishing at the basket better. She’s going to get more rebounds because of it.”
FGCU begins its 2013-14 season Friday on the road at FIU with Knight expected to be in the starting lineup.
“I’m ecstatic,” Knight said. “It’s going to be fun. I think this season we have a lot in store. I’m excited about being able to play with my teammates after I wasn’t able to last year. I’m confident in this team this year.”