Aug 14, 2013
STORRS, Conn. - Five months ago to the day, University of Connecticut guard Brianna Banks left the University of Connecticut Health Center after undergoing major surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. Today, the junior is battling her way back to the court and is on track with her rehab to begin the 2013-14 season on the court for the Huskies.
Banks suffered the season-ending injury in a collision on an offensive foul in the team's Feb. 2nd game against St. John's, and elected to wait a month before going under the knife to come to grips with the reality of how the injury would set her back.
"It was definitely mental for me," said Banks. "I've never really had a major injury in my career before. I didn't know how to take it. I needed that month to get myself together before we actually went through the surgery."
The Newnan, Ga. native was having a breakout year in her sophomore campaign, averaging 7.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 17.7 minutes through the first 21 games. Banks had scored double-digits in seven contests, after posting just three ten-plus performances in 32 games in 2011-12 as a freshman. It was obvious that Banks had regained the confidence that allowed her to come out of Georgia in 2011 as one of the most highly touted prospects.
"I was more hurt than anything," Banks said on her initial reaction to the news of the tear. "I just never thought it could happen to me. It wasn't something that you really ever plan for in your career."
Banks understood the traditionally grueling rehab process that comes along with ACL surgery and said that she didn't want to set unrealistic expectations for herself. But Banks got good news when Dr. Robert Arciero, who performed the procedure and the team training staff, told her that if there were no major setbacks, she could be ready for the start of the 2013-14 season.
"The first day of rehab was the worst day by far, but after that it's been uphill. As painful as it might be, you look forward to the next day of rehab. Every day you do is another day closer to being done. At first it's pretty upsetting, but as you start to get through the first couple of weeks you get used it and you can see a light at the end of the tunnel."
With the surgery behind her in mid-March, Banks became a spectator on the UConn bench as she watched her teammates capture the program's eighth National Championship against Louisville on April 9th. Despite not being able to participate in the historic run, Banks didn't feel left out during the postseason, instead choosing to approach the situation with a positive attitude.
"I was more into the games than anything," she said. "I just cheered my teammates on and tried to give them all the encouragement they had given me throughout the season. I didn't really have time to be disappointed that I wasn't out on the court because as soon as the game started I was locked-in on the action."
This summer Banks has been working hard in the gym and feels like she is on pace to help the Huskies chase after another national title in their inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference.
"I've got about two months left in the rehab process. I have been doing a few agility drills and have begun shooting and jogging again. I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm hoping to be ready for the season as planned."
For Banks, the upcoming season is not just about individual numbers; it's about becoming a leader as an upperclassman. On a team full of vocal leaders, including senior All-Americans Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, Banks knows she needs to lead by example.
"I just hope to be the best leader I can be since I'm a junior now. I think that's my job to this team and I know I have to do things the right way. I'm not really the loudest person out there on the court so I know that I need to really be a person that the younger players can look up to. That starts in practice. I think last season I really worked much harder in practice and I think that was one of the big reasons for my success."
Along with the increased workload on the court, Banks made the necessary changes off the court to regain the confidence that made her a as a 2011 McDonald's All-American.
"My mental state was a lot different this year. I think after my freshman year I knew I had to get better to play regularly. My main goal was to just play. I knew it was something that I had to do and I was able to put those pieces together and it worked out pretty well."
With just one incoming freshman, guard Saniya Chong, slated to join the roster in 2013-14, the competition for playing minutes will be fierce among the returning veterans. Banks will be looked upon by head coach Geno Auriemma to lead the Husky offense continue to make the critical plays that she made in conference play last season.
Coming off ACL surgery is never an easy task, especially when the Huskies will have a target on their backs as they look for a second consecutive national championship, but Banks has been approaching her rehab the right way and figures to be right back in the mix when she returns to the court in a few months.