For three top-ranked Midlands girls basketball players, the start of the 2012-13 season has not been an enjoyable experience.
Injuries have kept Dutch Fork senior center Alaina Coates and Heathwood Hall junior forward A’ja Wilson out of action, and limited the playing time of Dreher junior center Makalya Johnson. Coates and Johnson are coming off knee surgeries, while Wilson’s left arm is in a hard cast after falling and sustaining a severe sprain in a scrimmage.
“Nobody wants to see a player suffer a major injury, especially an outstanding player, but the rest of the team has to put that aside and get down to it,” Dutch Fork coach Faye Norris said. “It’s an adjustment period for the rest of the team, and sometimes the challenge can make a team stronger.”
Coates, a five-year starter who recently committed to South Carolina, averaged 18.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game a year ago while leading the Silver Foxes to a 27-3 record and their first state championship.
Norris said the 6-foot-5 center soon will be cleared to start practicing with the team but is unsure when her dominant insider will be back.
“We’ll bring her along slow and she how it goes,” Norris said. “We don’t want to rush things and see her have a setback. The goal is to have her ready and as near as possible to full strength when the region season starts after the holidays.”
Norris said Coates said she was having discomfort in her right knee at the end of last season, but shrugged it off. After playing AAU ball in the spring and summer, she noticed swelling when she was in weight training for the start of her senior season.
“It turned out she had a slight tear in her meniscus, which only showed up when she had a MRI,” said Norris.
Coates had the repair work done in early November.
The defending champs are off to a 2-0 start without Coates and ranked among the nation’s Top 25 teams by USA Today.
Heathwood Hall, which advanced to the SCISA state semifinals a year ago with the 6-foot-5 Wilson averaging 23.9 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.3 blocks, 3.1 assists and 3.5 steals per game, is 2-4 without its star player.
Wilson is scheduled to have the cast removed Dec. 14, in time to get into shape before the Highlanders head for Myrtle Beach and the elite CresCom Bank Holiday Invitational.
“A’ja is the reason we were invited in the first place, so she will be ready,” coach John O’Cain said with a laugh. “But honestly, she’ll play only when she’s ready to play.”
Johnson, a three-year starter who helped the Blue Devils claim the Class 3A state championship last season, has been coming off the bench for brief spells in the early going.
“Makayla is getting stronger every day, but there is no reason to rush her back at this point,” Dreher coach Teresa Jones said. “We have to be patient because she needs to be ready to go when the season gets serious.”