Injuries don't stop Catonsville CC's Miller North County grad back from knee surgery

January 24, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

Catonsville Community College's women's basketball season is in its early stages, and already, Kim Miller has played with a broken finger and a badly swollen lip.

Some athletes would retreat to the sidelines for the good of their health, but not Miller. She hops to her feet, flexes her right knee and gets ready for the Cardinals' latest practice. Problems with a finger or lip barely warrant her attention.

A 1991 graduate of North County High School, Miller thought her playing days were over after sitting out her first year at Catonsville and having arthroscopic surgery on the knee last June. But after seven games this winter, she ranks among the Maryland JuCo League leaders in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage.

"She's starting to get her skills back," said Catonsville coach Art St. Martin. "She's working hard, and her knee -- I would never know she had a knee operation."

The 6-foot-1 center fell during a game midway through her senior year at North County and suffered ligament, muscle and hamstring tears. She missed only a couple of games, and returned to average 17.7 points and 12.0 rebounds.

One physical problem led to another that season. By adjusting the way she walked to ease some of the discomfort in her knee, Miller began experiencing lower-back pain. In a Feb. 5 game against Arundel, Miller also played with a broken finger, but managed 24 points and 19 rebounds in a 58-53 victory.

Looking back now, she wonders how she ever made it through the season, which ended with her scoring 37 points in two region playoff games and being selected to the All-County first team.

She wonders why she even bothered.

"My physical therapist told me I was playing on one leg back then because I had no hamstring," she said. "That had to heal up naturally. You should never play on an injury like that. It took me out of a whole year of basketball. I'll never do that again."

For a while, it didn't appear as though Miller would have to worry about making such a decision again.

"Last year, just before my surgery, I thought that I could never play again because my knee hurt so bad," she said. "It scared me because basketball was a part of my life since first grade. I felt basketball was a stress reliever. I used to play year-round. Going to no basketball was very hard on me."

As a freshman at Catonsville, she practiced for two weeks before succumbing to the pain and returning to her doctor. She gained 20 pounds, and St. Martin -- her coach for two years at Brooklyn Park -- wasn't expecting her to return this season.

"Then, I ran into her at a mall [in August] and she said her knee was better and she was getting back in shape," St. Martin recalled. "I said, 'So you're planning on playing? Great, let's go for it.'

"She's gotten herself in pretty decent shape. I see no apparent problems. In fact, she's better than ever, as far as her mobility. She's a little rusty after a year's absence completely away from basketball, but she's making progress."

St. Martin's demanding practices, which feature a lot of running, helped Miller shed what was left of the extra weight. And her knee has withstood the rigors of every sprint and scrimmage.

"The first couple of practices, I was scared that my knee was going to hurt again and I wasn't going to be able to play. The pain hurt so bad before that I couldn't stand it," said Miller, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday night's 87-28 win over Cecil Community College.

"My scariest moment was coming into my first game knowing that I hadn't played in so long. My defense just started coming back the last couple of games, but I still have a lot to work on. My shooting definitely is my rustiest point."

She has made enough shots to rank seventh in the league at 14.0 points a game. She's second in rebounding at 13.0, and 10th in field-goal accuracy at 44.1 percent.

"She started out really slow and I thought, 'Well, maybe she's lost a little bit.' But then I could see the Kim Miller that I had at Brooklyn Park," said St. Martin, who won the last two of his six state championships during Miller's freshman and sophomore years. (Brooklyn Park then merged with Andover to form North County.)

"Some things, I honestly just think she forgot after not playing last year. She just needed to be refreshed on some of the things she did in basketball. She needed to be reminded again to box out, to go to the boards every time there's an offensive shot."

Miller also received a few reminders on what it's like to play hurt. She broke the pinky finger on her left hand during the first day of practice this winter, and she suffered a deep cut on her lip after being elbowed by an opposing player while going for a loose ball on Tuesday.

At least Miller is having an easier time in the classroom. Last semester, after receiving her first D, she was tested for a learning disability and found to have dyslexia, a reading impairment. She was an honor student in high school, but said: "I studied constantly, four hours a night for one easy class. My mom got sick of seeing me struggle so much.

"It was a relief after I found out because I was taught techniques that were easy. I wish I had found out earlier. I would have learned so much more in high school. I got by just because I studied so much. That's the only reason I made it through."

Now, Miller is trying to make it through the basketball season in one piece.

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