UK Women's Basketball

Timing of ACL injury tough for UK senior Smith

Amber Smith
Amber Smith

It was a move Amber Smith had made thousands of times before.

The Kentucky point guard was leading a fast break. She went in for a layup and stepped right and then switched quickly to her left.

Her left knee didn't comply.

"It just kind of gave out on me," she said.

Smith laid on the floor in familiar, blinding pain.

She prayed that she was simply reliving the nightmare of the torn anterior cruciate ligament from her freshman season.

She willed herself to wake up.

But the pain assured her that she was awake and starting a whole new nightmare.

"When it happened, I knew exactly what happened; I just knew," Smith said quietly Thursday night. "It was really not a good scene."

When she was a freshman it wasn't easy to bounce back from the torn ACL, but she pushed ahead knowing her best basketball was ahead of her.

It's different this time. She's a senior and she was getting ready to be a key leader on what could be a top-10 team this season.

"You probably couldn't have a more disappointing situation," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "You work so hard to get ready for your senior season. You're coming off an unbelievable year. You feel like you're kind of hitting your stride and then, boom, this happens."

Smith had surgery two weeks ago to repair the torn ACL and meniscus in her left knee (her freshman year it was her right knee).

She is still in some pain, but already she has started her rehab, and she isn't ruling out attempting to come back midway through her senior season.

The last time she came back, time was on her side.

Going to rehab five days a week, she went seven months and was ready by the start of the next season.

Mitchell said normally it takes four to six months for a recovery. That timetable could get Smith back on the court as early as mid-December or as late as February.

She also has the option of taking a medical redshirt.

"I'm just going to take it day by day and when I have to make some decisions, I will," she said Thursday. "There are a lot of options I could go with."

Smith and Mitchell both said that her previous experience with this might turn out to be a blessing.

"I know what to expect, how hard it's going to be to come back," she said. "But kind of knowing what to expect helps the process move a little smoother."

Until she's back fully, Smith has started to accept that she will have a different role on the team this season.

"Now it's more about me being a cheerleader, vocal leader and being another coach or teacher," Smith said.

Her coach acknowledged the transition from point guard to cheerleader is not going to be an easy one.

"I do think her team will need ... for her to quickly transition from the disappointment into determination and 'We need to move forward and you all can do it while I get well,' " he said. "That's the kind of attitude I'll be looking for from Amber."

Until she is back, UK does have some options to replace Smith, who was third on the team in scoring at 9.2 points. She also averaged a team-best 4.5 assists last season as the Cats advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Crystal Riley, who relieved Smith last season before sustaining a stress fracture in her right foot, is a "good option," Mitchell said.

UK also has incoming freshman Jennifer O'Neill, a McDonald's All-America point guard.

"Hopefully everybody doing a little extra can somewhat soften that blow," he said of losing Smith. "It'll be awfully hard to replace her."