Injury ends season for UT star ShafirWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The senior season of storied point guard Naama Shafir came to an abrupt end when a knee injury suffered Nov. 25 at Indiana was diagnosed as an ACL tear.
“It is probably the lowest,” Shafir said. “It’s hard. I never thought I’d be injured like that. You can’t really prepare for it. I’m trying to stay positive and be there for the team and my teammates.”
“When I saw the injury occur, it was pretty obvious that was going to be the outcome,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said. “She’s not one to get hurt, lie on the floor and not get up. She’s a very tough kid, and we’ve all witnessed her take hundreds of charges in her career, get up and act like it wasn’t a big deal. When she laid there, we knew it was serious.”
Shafir, a native of Hoshaya, Israel, displayed that toughness when she attempted to return to the game.
“I think out of adrenaline, she was able to move laterally for the trainer before she went back in,” Cullop said. “It was obvious the first time the play went the other way she couldn’t do it. I know how she normally moves, and it just wasn’t the same.”
‘Let’s win this game’
Cullop didn’t have much time to react to the injury, which happened in the first minute of play, as the Rockets rallied for a 69-58 win.
“My heart sank in the moment, but then the coach in me had to click back over to coaching the rest of the team,” she said. “Unfortunately, the game wasn’t going to stop just because she got injured. My immediate reaction was ‘OK, let’s win this game.’ I was proud of our players for pushing through and getting a win despite her injury. Afterward, my heart broke for her. She’s worked so hard to put herself in this position. Especially her senior year, to get that taken away from you is very difficult to stomach. She means an awful lot to our team.”
Senior guard Courtney Ingersoll stepped up in Shafir’s absence against Indiana with 20 points and eight rebounds, including shooting 5 of 8 from three-point range.
“Courtney can score, but she can score in a different way than Naama,” Cullop said. “It’s our coaching staff’s job to put Courtney in positions to score whether she’s playing the wing or playing the one. She had to play some point in that game, and she doesn’t practice the point. That just tells you what a great kid she is. She pays attention to all those positions and knew how to run everything we ran.
“I think she is a determined senior that’s going to give it everything she has. Whether she does or she doesn’t [score], there’s no question in my mind that she’s going to die trying.”
Sophomore point guard Andola Dortch scored 13 points with seven steals against Indiana. She will be counted on to distribute the ball to players like Ingersoll and to create her own chances.
“Andola has always been important,” Cullop said. “She and I had a talk when we got home from the trip. I noticed that she’s been waiting until the second half to score the majority of her points.
“I talked to her about being more of a threat from the tip. She’s not afraid in crunch time. She’s hit some big baskets late in games, but she has to do that from the tip.”
Dortch scored 10 points with five assists Nov. 27 as the Rockets lost 64-56 at Arkansas State in the first full game without Shafir. Ingersoll led the team again with 15 points and five rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We just had some questions,” Cullop said. “One advantage to our program is that we’ve never based it on one person. We’ve always created opportunities for everyone to score.”
With Shafir out, Cullop will have to tweak the offense to continue creating opportunities for everyone.
“We have to learn how to win in different ways now,” she said. “The good thing is she hasn’t been someone that’s had to score 20 or 30 for us to win. We’ve had other people scoring all along. We just have to score in different ways now. Now the pressure is on the coaching staff, and that’s fine. That’s what we get paid to do.”
Shafir led the Rockets last season with averages of 15.3 points and 5.1 assists per game. She was named the tournament MVP after scoring a career-high 40 points against USC in the WNIT championship game April 2. She is fourth in school history with 569 assists, fifth with 441 free throws made and 10th with 1,452 career points.
“Anytime any player has ever been injured, we talk about their statistics and how if we all divide them up amongst the whole team, it’s not as demanding to fill those shoes,” Cullop said. “If everybody makes a few more assists and takes a few more charges and make up for all the little things Naama did, not one person has to fill the shoes. We all fill them.”
Shafir has the option of redshirting, sitting out this year and returning next season, but she has not decided.
“It’s been only a few days,” she said. “I’m trying to be around people that make me happy and make me laugh and not think about it too much.
“I’m waiting. I don’t want to think about it right now.”
“The important thing is she already knows we’d love to have her back,” Cullop said. “When you have a player that’s never missed a game for an injury before, you can only imagine what she is dealing with. She has to learn how to stomach the injury before she even thinks about the future. She’s just trying to make it day by day. It’s devastating to know you spent this much time working to become the player you are and to help your team and the rug gets pulled out from underneath you.”
Whether it’s with the Rockets or a professional team, Cullop said the most important thing is for Shafir to fully heal before resuming her career.
“I told her this isn’t the end of the world,” Cullop said. “This is not the end of your career. You still have a lot of basketball to play. We’re going to give you the best medical care we can so you can come back as quickly as possible. My main thing to her was take your time coming back and let yourself heal. We’re in no hurry here. We don’t need her to come back for the end of the season. That would be unfair. She deserves to have a tremendous senior year if she chooses to come back. It’s only human to need some time. The worst thing anyone can do is try to force that on her right now.”
Shafir plans to help the team however she can while recovering.
“It’s hard when you really want to help and you don’t know how,” Shafir said. “You try and talk to them, but you want to be the one to do it. It’s hard. I don’t know how to explain. I can’t change anything. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to stay strong for my teammates.”
“I applaud her in still showing leadership qualities with our team,” Cullop said. “At practice she is instructing and teaching. During the game she was cheering her tail off. She’s doing everything in her power to help our team right now. When the time is right, we’ll talk about next year.”