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  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Brianna Ruiz of Del Oro coaches a girls youth basketball team as she rehabs following knee surgery last summer. She'll attend Washington on scholarship.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Sacramento High School's Allie Green (center) sat out her junior season with a knee injury but still has a scholarship to play for Pepperdine next year.

  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Brianna Ruiz, right, of Del Oro walks Kaity Barr through a drill as the senior coaches a girls youth basketball team.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Allie Green now wears a knee brace, and says it wasn't easy last season to watch her Sac High teammates win a Sac-Joaquin Section championship without her.

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Knee injuries don't have to roadblock a college scholarship

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 - 4:55 pm

Allie Green remembers the emotions that swirled through her mind after a ligament in her left knee snapped during an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament two summers ago in Oregon.

"The first thing I thought was that I'd never be able to play basketball again – that I'd never be as good a player as I was before," said Green, a senior at Sacramento High School. "But what really tore me down was that basketball is the thing I love the most – it's what gets me away from problems, emotions and stuff. I thought that had been taken away from me, too. It devastated me."

Brianna Ruiz, Green's AAU teammate, had similar thoughts when her right knee gave out last summer in a club tournament in Las Vegas.

"It was crazy because I wasn't pushed or anything; my knee just collapsed," said Ruiz, a senior at Del Oro. "I fell right in front of the college coaches that were sitting there, and the knee hurt really bad. … I'm thinking, 'Oh, crap, is this going to affect anything?' "

Other than a symbolic 90-second appearance in a late-season playoff game, Green missed her entire junior season at Sac High after being an All-Metro Conference selection as a sophomore.

Ruiz, a Bee All-Metro first-team selection last season, is now dealing with the same prospect. After three years starring for the Golden Eagles, Ruiz likely will be limited to rooting for her teammates from the bench.

But Ruiz and Green are fortunate in several ways.

Anterior cruciate ligament surgery once meant a near-certain end of an athlete's playing days, especially for a female. That's no longer the case because of improvements in medical and rehab procedures.

"It used to be that people who got an ACL injury didn't come back as fast, and sometimes they didn't come back at all," said Sac High's Michele Massari, who coached the AAU team Green and Ruiz played on this summer and once played at Nevada Union. "Back in the day, you'd see girls who had knee surgery, and they just weren't the same."

Pepperdine coach supportive

The injuries barely caused a blip in Green's and Ruiz's recruitment.

Two of Northern California's biggest college recruits said interest remained just as strong after they were hurt, and Ruiz signed with Washington and Green with Pepperdine in November. Between them, they had more than 30 major-college offers.

"I had 11 or 12 offers before I got hurt, and they all stayed with me. They kept calling to see how I was doing," said Green, a 5-foot-10 guard.

Green had developed a strong relationship with the Pepperdine coaching staff while attending a summer camp. When Waves coach Julie Rousseau checked in with Green, she offered some real-life experience.

"She also had torn her ACL," Green said of Rousseau, who played at UC Irvine. "So she knew things would be tough and that I'd have to have a strong mindset and work hard to get through it. But she kept looking at the positives rather than the negatives, and that helped me."

Ruiz, a 5-11 guard, continued to be recruited during the fall, even after her August surgery.

Recruiters from Pacific-12 Conference schools, Kansas, Louisville and other teams would stop by Del Oro or watch Ruiz coach and train a youth girls team in Rocklin. She said she had 21 Division I offers and no one stopped recruiting her after the injury.

"With a typical athlete, you might see half the recruiters back off," said Mike Takayama, who has coached girls basketball at Del Oro for 27 seasons. "But athletes like Allie Green and Brianna are so physically superior that colleges feel they are more than worth the risk."

Ruiz said she chose Washington because she liked the area, the school, the coaches and a team that appears on the rise after going 20-14 last season.

"I feel like I can make an impact there," she said.

Green advises Ruiz

Green and Ruiz say they are physically stronger because of rehab and more aware of the importance of strength training, especially for knees.

Green works three days a week with former NFL football player Alex Van Dyke, an area trainer who also works with the Sac High team.

"I'm extremely stronger," said Green, who wears a knee brace for extra support.

Ruiz already was in great shape as a three-sport athlete (volleyball and track and field) at Del Oro. But physical therapy is "making me all-around better."

It also has Ruiz thinking she might be able to pull an Adrian Peterson – the star Minnesota Vikings running back tore his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve and was playing in September – and make a comeback this season.

"I feel great right now," Ruiz said. "If all continues to go well, and my therapist clears me, I think I could come back and play."

That idea doesn't sit well with Takayama, however.

"We definitely miss her, and she's in practice every day knocking down shots from every angle," Takayama said. "But I'd feel terrible if she got hurt. I don't want to jeopardize her scholarship in any way."

Green also is trying to keep the reins on her friend.

"She knows how much I love to play, but she keeps telling me to slow it down, to take my time," Ruiz said. "But the first tournament (in Sonora) was heartbreaking. It was really hard not being out there."

Green had similar feelings watching her teammates win a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship without her last season, but she said that discomfort was nothing compared to when she saw Ruiz go down with her injury during their AAU game.

"It made me sick," Green said. "It was kind of mind-boggling for me because I know the feeling. Now whenever I see someone grab their knee, it makes me ill."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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