Dadds' knee stands test, lifts her back to top of her game

February 09, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

Whatever doubts still lingered about whether Debbi Dadds would be able to resume playing basketball were mostly erased in one game.

The numbers: 24 points and 12 rebounds in Anne Arundel Community College's season-opener against Dundalk CC in late November.

Her right knee, which had undergone surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament nearly two years before, had withstood the rigors of practice. She could live with the swelling and the ice treatments. She could get used to wearing a brace.

What she couldn't have handled was finding out that the skills that made her one of the top centers in the county her last two seasons at Northeast High had vanished.

She hadn't played since Feb. 18, 1992, when she fell while running on a fast break against Arundel. As she looked to her left to see if a pass was coming, "My right foot stuck on the floor, and when I turned, my knee twisted," she said.

Dadds, 19, still remembers every detail of that painful afternoon. And how Northeast, 12-6 at the time of the injury, lost its next five games and any hopes of going to the 2A state tournament.

"When I was in rehab," she recalled last week, "I thought, 'I'm never going to be able to play. It won't be as good as it was before.' "

In some ways, it's even better.

At the time of the injury, which required a third of her patella tendon to be used to reconstruct the damaged ligament, Dadds was averaging 17.1 points and 16.0 rebounds. In 14 games at Anne Arundel, she leads the team in scoring (18.0) and rebounding (16.0), and is running faster than she did before, said Northeast coach Calvin Vain.

So, how was Dadds, a 5-foot-11 freshman, able to re-emerge as a dominating player? There was the lengthy rehabilitation process, which included bike riding and hamstring curls. And she began dieting after the surgery and lost 25 pounds.

But mentally, the rate of recovery was much slower.

She enrolled in two classes at Anne Arundel in fall 1992 and was set to be a part-time student again a year later when Pioneers coach Tom Smith called "out of the blue" and asked if she wanted to play.

"I really didn't want to. I didn't think I'd be able to," she said.

Smith disagreed: "I told her the first time I talked to her that she would do excellent at this level. It didn't matter if she had a year layoff. And I didn't even realize at the time her work ethic and determination."

With the support of her boyfriend, Dadds decided to take a chance, which meant testing not only her knee and endurance, but also her courage.

"I thought I was going to pass out the first day. I was seeing stars running down the court," she said. "I was real timid. I didn't know what I could do and I didn't want to embarrass myself. But eventually, I just got that feeling back, the kind I had in high school. I don't think when I'm out there. Everything just happens. reaction."

It's also devastating to opponents. She had 22 points and 20 rebounds against Essex and has reached double figures in both categories in every game except one.

"She's just now getting more comfortable with movement and going up strong," said Smith, whose team is 14-0. "There's no doubt if she didn't have that year layoff, she'd be averaging 22 or 23 points this year. But even if she doesn't touch the ball on offense, she does so much for the team in other ways."

Dadds didn't get the brace until more than a week after she had started playing. "I didn't know if I'd need it," she said. "I guess all the running was a shock to my system because my knee would balloon up."

Trainer Jim Fontaine said the condition of her knee from the early days of practice to the present is like "night and day."

"The first two weeks, she was sore from the knee all the way down to her ankle," he said. "Now, it's just a little icing after JTC games, preventive maintenance."

On occasion, Dadds has removed the brace during practices and scrimmages, until Smith tells her to put it back on.

"I don't even know my brace is on during the middle of a game. I may look handicapped to everybody else, but to myself, I feel better than I did before," she said.

The knee has passed numerous tests, such as in a recent game against Camden. "She went to the bucket and a girl submarined her," Smith said. "I was thinking, 'Oh no, just what she needs.' She got up and was fine, but those are the times that scare the heck out of you."

Dadds' biggest fear now is an uncertain future. She isn't ready to commit to another year at Anne Arundel or a move to a four-year school, but she's beginning to feel pressured.

The College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, which drove her to tears as a senior at Northeast after informing her that her 2.4 grade-point-average was insufficient, is showing interest.

"It brings great stress to me because it's making me have to do something that I'm not ready to decide," she said.

Anyone recruiting Dadds will see a player more confident than when she was in high school, in better condition and with more shooting range. And that's not all.

"If she wants to go on to a four-year school, I'd think a lot of coaches would want her," Smith said. "Anybody who doesn't want somebody with that work ethic would be crazy."

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