There’s perhaps no more debilitating injury in basketball than an ACL tear. The injury can strike at any moment, given enough wear and tear on a knee, with a simple awkward landing or misstep.
Hundreds of professional players have had to undergo the arduous journey back. Derrick Rose was the youngest Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the history of the National Basketball Association for the Chicago Bulls, with a promising career ahead of him. Yet after hitting the floor and writhing in pain in the midst of a game in the 2012 playoffs, his play has yet to reach that same level. Skylar Diggins, a guard for the Dallas Wings of the Women’s National Basketball Association, suffered a tear in the midst of her 2015 season and has since never matched her points-per-game average from the prior year.
Brittany McPherson, Chapman junior and guard on the women’s basketball team, understands their pain. Over the summer break between McPherson’s freshman and sophomore years, she was playing a game of pickup basketball with her friends. She went to grab the ball, yet upon landing her leg hit the ground awkwardly, causing a complete tear of her ACL.
It couldn’t have come at a worst time. In her freshman year, as head coach Carol Jue attested, McPherson had a breakout season. Coming off the injury, it may have been difficult to imagine her as the same player who averaged about eight points and three assists per game off the bench.
“It’s hard physically and mentally,” McPherson said. “I was really excited to get out on the court and play again; having that as an end goal kept me motivated through the whole process.”
She dedicated her entire sophomore season to her recovery. Despite the extended timetable, Jue expressed support for the decision.
“Normally you can come back in six to eight months,” Jue said. “But, it’s always better to go a whole year to get it fully healed.”
From watching McPherson gallop up and down the court and rotate seamlessly on defense over the team’s first four games this season, it’s hard to imagine that she ever struggled. But a year prior, she found it difficult to put any weight on or do any exercises with the injured leg. Slowly, she progressed every day, trying to do just a few more repetitions of single leg squats and lunges.
Along the way, her teammates offered both emotional and even physical support, aiding her in making a quick recovery.
“They were really supportive,” McPherson said. “I was included in the team; I would go to practices and games and they would even come help me at rehab, so they helped me push toward my goal even more.”
Her goal was finally achieved this season, after taking the court in the Panthers’ first game of the season against Minnesota’s St. Catherine University. Her numbers didn’t pop off the page; she scored just two points, playing 11 minutes. However, her defense looked none the worse for wear, according to Jue.
“She does little things that aren’t in the box score, like on the defensive side of the ball,” Jue said. “We’re able to play her one-five (guarding all five positions), which is really important defensively.”
McPherson, meanwhile, was simply excited to step foot on the court once again – and to not be limited in the amount of effort she could expend. She considers herself to be a high-energy player, one who gives her all night-in and night-out – whether it be crashing the glass to grab a rebound, or driving the lane to score the ball or kick it out to an open teammate.
“It took some time to get back to feeling good on the court again,” McPherson said. “Now I feel great and it was like the injury never happened.”