Carolyn Davis battles back from a devastating injury

Staff Writer
February 15, 2013 - 1:14pm
Carolyn Davis averages 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for Kansas, but she's still not completely recovered from a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Athletics)

Carolyn Davis averages 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for Kansas, but she's still not completely recovered from a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Athletics)

A year ago, Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich and her recovery from an ACL made for a compelling story -- but it wasn't long after that another potential WNBA first-round draft pick from Kansas also tore her ACL.

The Jayhakws still managed to reach the Sweet 16 in 2012, but with a healthy Davis, who knows how much higher they could have gone. Now, close to a year after the injury, with left knee fully braced, Davis is back as the starting center in her final season in Lawrence, and Goodrich is running the point. Davis, though, is still not quite 100 percent, and evaluating her WNBA potential is a tricky task.

As for Kansas and this year's postseason hopes, the equation is a little simpler.

“Putting those two together," says coach Bonnie Henrickson, "makes us much better. One leads the country in assists and the other one has led the country in field-goal percentage the majority of her career. Carolyn catches and finishes as quickly as anybody in the country. She has great hands and iff she can’t catch it, it has got to be a horrendous pass because she can catch a bad pass. She finishes quickly, she is long and she runs the floor really, really well. Building a program and having those two pieces (the point guard and post) that talented is a reason why we have been so successful."

It's been a little more than a year since Davis was hurt, and her ACL tear was complicated by a dislocation of the knee.

"It was very ugly," says Henrickson. "I think her rebounding numbers [much less than her career average] are indicative of her still gaining the confidence in her lateral quickness left or right outside her wingspan. Earlier her conditioning was an issue. When a kid gets tired, what gives?  It is the extra effort to go get a ball. I don’t think she’s 100% back though she really made some improvement over the Christmas break.”  

Here's Davis's take on her injury and her career.

FC:  How did you get involved with basketball?

CD:  When I was about seven or eight, they started a league in my church (in Evansville, Ind.) for basketball. It was just something to do for the kids to keep them busy and out of the streets. I started playing in that league and from that when I was in fifth grade, we started a traveling team. It was all boys and I was the only girl on the team. That’s kind of how I got really serious with basketball.  

FC: Were you tall [Davis is listed as 6-3] by the time you were in the fifth or sixth grade?

CD: Yes, considering everyone else around me, I was pretty tall.

FC: Where did you play high school basketball?

CD: I played two years at Benjamin Bosse High School in Evansville and my last two years at George Bush High School in Houston.

FC: Were you on the varsity as a freshman?

CD: No, actually I wasn’t very good at basketball in high school. I started out on the freshman team in Indiana and played some games on varsity depending on their numbers. I didn’t fully play on the varsity until my sophomore year of high school.

FC: So you were really a late bloomer of sorts?

CD: Yes!   

FC:  Were you always a post player?

CD:  Yes, I was. It’s crazy because people now say how great my hands are. When I was younger, I couldn’t really catch the ball and that’s what kind of held me back.   

FC:  Was your high school team very successful?

CD:  In Indiana we were. My sophomore year we made it to semi-state. When I moved to Texas, the [high school] team there was not great at all. My senior year was the first year they made it to the playoffs in school history. We lost in the first round. 

FC:  Did you play club ball in the off-season?

CD:  In Indiana I played for a church team. We were the Memorial Baptist Miracles. In Texas I played for Houston Elite. 

FC:  Which helped more in your development? 

CD: Club ball,especially in Indiana. The coaches developed my game until I moved to Texas. As far as the elite players, that helped me more in Texas playing against better competition. 

FC: Besides Kansas, who were your final choices for college?

CD: Texas A&M and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten

FC: What made you settle on Kansas?

CD: When I came on my visit, I just kind of fell in love. It was my first visit. The way I interacted with the team I just felt important and kind of fit in really well. The coaches loved me and really sold me. 

FC: Did you have any significant injuries prior to the ACL last year (junior season)?

CD: In high school, I sprained my ankle once and I had a stress fracture in my leg once.  

FC: What happened in your knee injury?

CD: On Feb. 12, 2012 [versus Kansas State in Manhattan], I tore my left ACL. That’s what caused the dislocation of the patella. I sprained and pulled just about every other ligament in the knee.

FC:  Was the mental or the physical side of the injury worse?

CD:  I would say mental. Pain-wise, when I actually had the injury I don’t think anything will compare to that. From that point on, anything I felt was not that much for me. I have been good with pain my whole life. 

Mentally, that’s why I have been struggling. At the beginning I tried not to think about it much. Now that I’m playing and dealing with it, the mental part is kind of catching up and I have to deal with that and get through things. So that’s why the mental side has been the toughest part. 

FC: Is it the part of not being with the team or not being able to play?

CD: I would say worrying about not being able to play again. When I got hurt I was told I had a 50% chance of not being able to play again because I dislocated my knee and just not tearing my ACL. When you hear you have a 50-50 chance of not playing again, it kind of hits you hard. You think about a lot of things and try to rehab. What if I do all this and I can’t play anymore? I think that was really tough for me.      

FC:  Do you think it is harder for a tall post player to come back from an ACL than a guard?

CD: I don’t really know. I think there are really different dynamics of the game. Guards cut and move more. Mentally with post players it is hard to think about being pushed around. I think that part of it is tougher, being comfortable being pushed, not being able to control your own movements.   

FC: Were you able to work on anything basketball-wise while you were out with the ACL?

CD: I still lifted [weights]. I worked on my upper body strength and my form shooting and free throw shooting, things I didn’t need my legs for; also, ball handling.  

FC: Over the course of your career, are there one or two things that you worked on to reach your current level of play?

CD:  I came in as a sponge.  I tried to soak in all the information I could.  I think having Tamika Raymond [former University of Connecticut and WNBA post player] as a coach for one year.  That really helped me a lot as she fed me a lot of information.  Just being able to learn and grow from my first year here really, really helped me. 

FC:  Your time was limited initially this season and now you are playing normal minutes.  With that in mind, what are your goals for this season? 

CD: I would say to just improve my rebounding is a big thing for me right now. I know I have to rebound as a post player to play any further than now. I think also being a better leader and a strong person mentally, and continuing to grow as a player is important if I want to play at the next level. 

FC: You regularly play against Brittney Griner. What’s the hardest thing about that?

CD: What’s not hard about it? I think just the fact you can play your hardest and push her out of the lane, put both your hands in front of her face and she still might hit a shot. I think the hardest thing is mentally just to tell yourself it is OK that she’s going to make shots and just keep playing.   

FC: Are you looking forward to playing as a pro in the WNBA?

CD: Yes. I would love to play overseas as well.  

FC: What would you like to tell WNBA GMs as to why they should draft you?

CD: I am a good person for a team because I have good character. I am going to be someone who is going to work hard and I am going to push your players. I am going to be someone who will come in and make the older players work for their positions. I will work hard and be respectful. I will just be a sponge. 

FC: Looking at your game, what’s your greatest strength?

CD: My ability to finish around the rim.

FC: What areas would you like most to see improved?

CD: Rebounding and post defense.  

FC: I asked your coach about your rebounding being down to around 6.4 rpg this season. Do you think the injury has something to do with that?

CD: I don’t want to blame it on anything but I think to be honest it is.To have the confidence to jump in the air and come back down and not know what’s underneath you, that’s kind of my toughest thing right now. A lot of it is to just go [for the ball]. If you don’t go, you will not get the rebound.    

FC: In five years, Carolyn Davis will be doing what?

CD: I hope to be a great basketball player in the WNBA.

FC: In ten years?

CD: I would say still playing basketball and mentoring; and a mother and wife.

FC: What advice would you like to give any post player suffering an ACL?

CD: I would say don’t slack on your rehab. That’s the most important thing to gain that strength in your legs. You are going to need that to keep your knee stable. Taking your rehab very seriously is a big part of it.