A hint on this move. A glimpse on that pass. A flash of the brilliance that made Jacki Gemelos the most prized recruit of the Class of 2006.
Most of the high school Class of 2006 is now the Class of 2010. Most of the basketball-playing Class of 2006 can look back on a career, whether satisfying or unsatisfying. Jayne Appel, who grew up not that far from Gemelos in Northern California, and played with her in the summer and against her in some epic prep matchups, is thinking about a second trip to the Final Four, and whether she'll be the second overall pick in the WNBA draft.
But Jacki Gemelos was better than Appel. There's not a doubt about that, as Gemelos was the 2006 Gatorade Player of the Year, and ticketed for the University of Connecticut until she changed her mind in the summer before her senior year, and seriously ticked off one Geno Auriemma. He was furious that she shifted her allegiance to Mark Trakh and USC, which shows just how good she was. After all, would Geno go public about getting spurned by anything less than the best recruit in all the land?
That was then, however. Thursday, in a mostly empty Haas Pavilion, Gemelos returned to the court for the first time since, well, 2006. It was March 1 of that year when Gemelos tore her ACL in a high school game. Since then, she's had three more ACL tears.
That's right, three more. A total of four. Four brutally painful injuries. Four brutally long and punishing rehabilitations.
And never a moment on the court. Never the satisfaction of a real game, of an audience for those marvelous skills. She was, in truth, the next Diana Taurasi. Six feet tall, smooth, skilled, explosive. Long-range shooter. Tough at the rim. Great passer. Superb vision. Clutch player.
But never a moment on the court -- until Thursday. Until, ironically, teammate Aarika Hughes fell to the court clutching her ankle just 34 seconds into the USC-Cal game. Then, as Hughes was helped off the court, Gemelos, wearing a brace on her left knee, jogged on.
I felt like crying but I couldnt, Gemelos said afterward. I didnt know what to expect.
Of course, neither did Cal, and though Gemelos didnt dazzle in her long-delayed debut, she filled up the box score in her 28 minutes on the court. Eight points, five assists and five rebounds isnt what the casual fan might expect from the top recruit in the country, but then again, its been nearly four years since Gemelos played a game that counted.
|Photo Caption: Jacki Gemelos (left), the prize recruit of 2006, spent four long years on the USC sidelines rehabbing a succession of ACL injuries, before finally making a poignant and long-awaited debut this week against Cal.|
|Photo Credit: Courtesy USC Sports Information/Po-He Tseng|
And parts of her game were still visible, and more will undoubtedly be revealed as the rust gets knocked off. She made her third three-point attempt (once a staple of her game), but the sweetest moment of the night came after USC had just lost a lead it had held throughout the game. With 7:16 remaining, Gemelos had the ball on the right wing. She faked left, the direction she favored all night long, and exploded right after a killer crossover, leaving a Cal defender focused more on staying upright than staying with Gemelos. But as she approached the hoop, 6-3 DeNesha Stallworth stepped up to block the shot so Gemelos double-clutched, let Stallworth come back down, and finished the play.
For USC fans, it was all downhill after that, as the young Bears eventually claimed a 61-55 win in a mild upset. And Gemelos didnt score any more, but in the bigger picture, neither the loss nor the pedestrian stat line really matters that much.
Jacki was back, back in her element, back doing what she once did as well as any of her contemporaries, as all but a few of her elders. The second I got on the court I felt completely normal again, she said. I felt like my old self again.
And for her parents, her high school coach, her old friends from Stockton who had made the trip to Berkeley, to those who knew her casually and to those who had only seen her play back in the day, that was enough. It would be wonderful if theres more down the road, if Jacki Gemelos can continue to fight her way back to being an elite player.
But if nothing else, she came back. If nothing else, we all got a glimpse of one of the great talents of the past decade. And if nothing else, she played the game she loved once again.
And her reaction, after the countless hours of pain and frustration, after the lost years, the crushed dreams?
I couldnt ask for anything more.