When Amber Smith blew out her second knee last summer, the one thing that got her through month after month of grueling rehab was the thought of getting back on the court this season.
Kentucky's senior point guard, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in late July during a pickup game, is about three weeks away from being cleared to play.
That would leave her roughly seven regular-season games and then whatever post-season play awaits the No. 19 Cats.
That limited timeline has the guard rethinking her immediate basketball future.
"In the beginning, I was like, I've got to get back this year; no matter what, I've got to get back," Smith said in an interview Friday. "But then once I came back down to the ground ... I'm more level-headed now, just kind of thinking everything out."
As she sees the number of games dwindle and knows that she's not in tip-top condition, she seems to be leaning toward taking a redshirt this season and then coming back full speed next season.
Smith, who has been cleared to do most on-court activities and has been practicing in a limited way for the past few weeks, said the decision weighs heavily on her every day.
"With every game that passes, I'm sort of leaning toward coming back next year because that's another game I can't play," she said.
Smith has aspirations of playing basketball after college, too, and wants to give herself the best opportunity to do that. Her mother has weighed in also, urging Smith to return next season and go to graduate school.
The senior guard wrinkled her nose and smiled at the prospect of more school.
But the one thing tugging at Smith's heart is her desire to go out with fellow seniors and close friends Victoria Dunlap and Carly Morrow.
"Wanting to play with them and go out with them because I came in with them," she said. "We're definitely the class that has changed things around at Kentucky and how things are done."
Smith admitted that it's been difficult to watch from the sidelines, especially during UK's recent three-game losing streak. Knowing that a true point guard would help makes it even harder, she said.
Coach Matthew Mitchell has tried to encourage Smith to be a leader, even from the bench.
"It's a tough situation for her, and it's hard to make a player understand that they can make an impact because they can't really see the result on the court without them actually going out and doing something," he said. "It's been a real challenge for Amber. I think it's been a great opportunity for her to learn some things about herself."
Even though Smith seems to now be leaning toward a return later rather than sooner, she did smile widely when asked whether she ever considers surprising everyone and suiting up to play.
Or whether she plans to do that in a few weeks when she's cleared.
"You never know," she said. "I've thought about it a couple times: the Duke game, the Louisville game — but that was probably too early — the Duke game, definitely. You never know."
Bett back in Bluegrass
Catina Bett, who was dismissed from the Kentucky team by Coach Matthew Mitchell in 2009, will be back at Memorial Coliseum Sunday playing for Mississippi State.
The season she was dismissed from the UK team, Bett appeared in 19 games, averaging 2.4 points and three rebounds.
The 6-foot-5 starting center averages 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds for Mississippi State (8-7), which has lost four in a row.