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Friday, July 19, 2019

Injuries—At All Levels—Must Be Taken Seriously

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By Clay Kallam

Bob Corwin has his spot at Hamilton High School in Phoenix. He has his portable chair back, with the cushions, set up on the coaches’ side of the floor, about 15 rows up in the bleachers. His trademark green windbreaker and flip-down shades are also in evidence, as if anyone could mistake him for anyone else.

We talked every day for at least 15 minutes, commenting on the Nike Tournament of Champions Joe Smith Division games we were watching as well as on college teams and the WNBA. Sooner or later, as it always does, the talk came around to injuries.

“You know one way to tell which college team has had a good year?” I asked. “Look at the postseason stats and see how many players started almost every game. If nobody gets hurt, and the starting lineups stay the same, it’s almost a guarantee that team will exceed expectations.”

And at the Nike TOC, an 88-team tournament just south of Phoenix that draws the top high schools in the country, the same holds true. Injuries are crucial, and because they are more common than in the boys’ and men’s game, they are more likely to have an impact on the outcome of individual games, and the season as a whole.

Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), for example, won the Joe Smith Division despite the absence of 6-1 power forward Alexyz Vaioletama, thanks in great part to a dynamic performance in the 66-60 title game win over St. Mary’s (Stockton, Calif.) by senior Jessica Duarte. The Monarchs are unbeaten, and if they can run the table in Southern California the rest of the way, and then claim the state’s Division II title, they’ll be the national champions.

And luckily for Mater Dei, Vaioletama has a chance to come back this season from stress fractures in both legs. Originally, the injuries weren’t thought to be that serious, and then there were reports she was done for the year. Now, she says she may be back, perhaps in time for the Monarchs’ January 18 date with Brea-Olinda (Brea, Calif.), another elite national team who effectively finished third in the Joe Smith Division.

The Ladycats, though, have no chance of getting 6-3 junior Justine Hartman back. Her family finally decided to pull the trigger and have her partially torn ACL operated on, which means she’s gone for the high school season and perhaps next summer’s club season as well. Hartman, though, is clearly a high-major player, and her future shouldn’t be affected by the injury. Still, there are only so many years an athlete can compete – for most of even the top girls, a career is eight years long—four in high school and four in college – and losing any of them is more than unfortunate.

But even without Hartman, Brea made it to the semifinals of the Joe Smith Division before blowing an eight-point lead in the last minute and losing to St. Mary’s in overtime. Oh, and the Rams were missing a starter as well: Anissa Garcia stayed home with back spasms, forcing junior Kendall Kenyon, who played with the junior varsity last season, to play big minutes at the TOC. Kenyon played very well, but Garcia’s absence certainly hurt St. Mary’s, and who’s to say which team missed its injured player more?

It is safe to say that Long Beach Poly, the other Joe Smith Division semifinalist, missed 6-3, USC-bound, Thaddesia Southall. Maybe the Jackrabbits manage to get past Mater Dei with her in the lineup, maybe not – but there’s no doubt the injury had an impact.

Of course, one could go through all 88 teams and find many significant injuries, just as one can look at NCAA schools that have disappointed and point to this ACL tear or that badly sprained ankle. Ask Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder how much injuries have altered her plans for this season—the Hawkeyes have been all but decimated. USC is singing much the same song, just another verse. Would DePaul still be in the Top 25 had Deirdre Naughton not gone out with an ACL tear? The list could go on and on.

The WNBA? No different. Would Minnesota have been better with Seimone Augustus? Would Sacramento have been so dismal, and gone out of business, had Rebekkah Brunson and DeMya Walker been completely healthy all season?

Anyone who’s been around the game for any length of time knows all too well how injuries affect the sport, and anyone who’s been close to a particular team can recite a litany of crucial injuries – and that litany will take longer to recite than for comparable boys’ and men’s teams. For reasons still very much subject to debate, women and girls are more prone than men and boys to ACL tears, stress fractures, and a number of other injuries well known to those who hang around this sport for any time at all.

I’m not trying to argue that women shouldn’t play basketball because it’s too dangerous for them, or even that the rules should be changed to better protect them – but I think it’s important that everyone involved with the sport take injuries very seriously, and that they’re not just waved away as “part of the game.” Just as the NFL is finally focusing on concussions, players and coaches at all levels of women’s basketball need to realize that injury prevention needs to be the highest priority, and that everything that can be done to prevent athletes from damaging and potentially life-long injuries must be done.

The Nike TOC was a wonderful event, with exciting games and a bevy of talented young players, but it would have much better had all the elite players been on the court – better for the event, better for the teams and, most of all, better for the players who sat at home or on the sidelines unable to take part in the games.

Originally published Wed, December 30, 2009

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.