You have to understand how much of a person goes into being a collegiate athlete.
It isn’t just the obvious, the punishment and pressure of the games, not even when you add in the grueling practices and off-season conditioning and the studying of opponents.
Toss in the class work and the travel and the time away from family when other students are heading home or for a Caribbean cruise or the panhandle of Florida during spring break.
It is competition on the athletic field and in the classroom, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And it goes on freshman year, sophomore year, junior year and then senior year, right up until you get close enough to taste the end, see the end and to see a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, a team that is challenging for a Big 12 conference championship, a Top 10 team that is senior heavy and heading for the NCAA Tournament with a chance to do who knows what.
That’s where Brooke Hampton found herself, a selfless senior point guard, lying on the court in practice, her knee injured, wondering if all of that work, all the sweat and the pressure was for nothing.
Oh, she knew she hadn’t torn an ACL. Enough West Virginia University players had suffered that injury that she knew what it looked like and felt like.
“They told me you scream from the pain,” she said on Friday afternoon, minutes before she was going to get on the bus with her teammates to fly to Baton Rouge, La., for the opening round of the NCAAs in which they are the second seed in the Louisville regional.
At first she thought, maybe hoped is a better word, that what she had suffered was just a bone bruise, but instead it was a torn meniscus, which would require surgery, but recovery is not a long-term thing.
Easy? No, but she was looking at weeks, not months, and there were weeks left in the season.
Maybe she could get back for the Big 12 Tournament. Probably she could get back for the NCAAs.
But here it was Senior Day and WVU had to win to at least tie for the Big 12 title, and coach Mike Carey wanted her to be out there with the rest of her senior class, a special senior class.
“He didn’t want to risk the NCAAs by putting me out there,” she said.
So all day long he was in contact by phone with Hampton. He wanted to give her an honorary start on Senior Day.
Could she do it?
Yes. No. Yes. No.
“We were talking back and forth, should I play, should I not? It was a last-minute, game-time decision. I don’t know who else he talked to, but he said, ‘You’re going to start. We’ll take the jump ball and call timeout right after it,’” she recalled.
And that’s what happened. She started, WVU won the tip, two seconds into the game timeout was called and she was removed, yet it was the start of the greatest day of her life.
“You are with a group of girls that was so rare to find, you are with amazing coaches and fans and your family on top of it, and then you win a championship. I wanted to play, but at least I got out and started.”
A group of girls so rare to find … Hampton, Christal Caldwell, Jess Harlee and Taylor Palmer, along with Asya Bussie, who missed a year with an ACL injury.
“We didn’t know Asya would be here. Once we added Asya in with me, Jess, Christal and Taylor, we were all so hard working and dedicated and we all brought something unique to the game. The combination, with the addition of Asya, which was icing on the cake, was something special,” she said.
Twenty-nine wins into the season they are ready to play Albany in the first round of the NCAA tournament and Hampton is back, having found her basketball legs in the Big 12 Tournament, enough so that now Carey won’t hesitate to use her as Linda Stepney’s backup.
“The first possession in my first game back was like surreal. I knew the knee was hurting and I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable with it. I had to brush the dust off,” she recalled. “The next time I went in I was more confident and got the team back up and did what I had to do to win.”
Her role now is to come in and run the club but with a different style than Stepney, pushing the ball a little harder, making flashier passes and offering a 3-point threat that defenses must defend, opening things up for the real scorers like Bussie, Caldwell and, of course, the stylish sophomore Bria Holmes.
Now it’s one and done … not like any time before in her playing days for this is one and done with your collegiate basketball career.
“It’s kind of scary. It kind of hits you in increments,” she admitted. “But I think we have a really good chance. The bracket we’re in, we’re on LSU’s home court if we beat Albany and if we beat LSU we play Louisville on their home court, but I think we play better away from home anyway.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.
You have to understand how much of a person goes into being a collegiate athlete.
- Bob Herzel
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