Shafir will return to Rockets; Cullop ‘elated’Written by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s hard turning your back on unfinished business. Toledo point guard Naama Shafir had every intention to return home to Hoshaya, Israel, in May after tearing her right ACL four games into her senior basketball season. But with an extra season of eligibility on the table, the temptation to fulfill unreached goals won out and Shafir decided to delay her homecoming one more year.
“At the beginning, I was kind of shocked,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. To be honest, at first I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m coming back.’ After a couple of weeks, I started to think that’s not how I want to finish here. I feel like I still have a lot to give here. I’m excited to come back for another year with amazing fans, an amazing team and coaches. I see it as an opportunity for me, and I’m happy to have a chance to come back for one more year.”
Shafir tore her ACL in the first minute of a 69-58 win at Indiana on Nov. 25 and had surgery Dec. 14 to repair the injury. Shafir started the previous 106 games in her career at UT and had never missed a game in her life due to injury.
“I’m elated that she’s coming back,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said. “She is a wonderful kid and a great player. She brings an awful lot of leadership to our program. She also has a lot of unfinished business. I can’t wait to see her have the senior year she deserves to have.”
Shafir joins a senior class with fellow co-captain forward Lecretia Smith along with guard Riley McCormick and centers Kyle Baumgartner and Yolanda Richardson.
“I’m actually going to graduate with Naama,” Richardson said. “It’s a great feeling to know that we have another year together. We’re going to go out with a bang together.”
For Shafir, one difficult part of the decision to return will be watching senior guards Courtney Ingersoll and Haylie Linn graduate without her.
“It’s really weird,” Shafir said. “I talked to both of them about it. Before I made a final decision, I was like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to walk on senior night without me.’ It’s part of it. I can’t change it. Those are the little things that make it a little upsetting for me. But I’m so happy for them, and I know that they’re happy I’m staying.”
“I’m so excited for her,” Ingersoll said. “I’m more excited for our community because they get another chance to come and watch one of the best players in Toledo’s history. I’m going to miss playing alongside her, but it’s going to be another fantastic year because of her.”
Shafir, a three-time All-MAC selection, led the Rockets last season with 15.3 points and 5.1 assists per game. She earned WNIT MVP honors after scoring a career-high 40 points against USC in the championship game. Shafir was averaging 9.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game before her injury this season.
Shafir was named the 2012 Marty Glickman Outstanding Jewish Scholastic Female of the Year by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Committee. Shafir will receive the award at the 20th annual National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum Induction Ceremony on April 29 at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack, N.Y.
Sophomore point guard Andola Dortch has picked up her offense to help replace Shafir, leading the Rockets with 13.5 points and 4.6 assists per game this season. Shafir and Dortch frequently teamed up in the backcourt last season, and Cullop is excited to get her dynamic duo back together.
“Those two did a great job last year feeding off each other, and I know that played into her decision, having her sidekick back,” Cullop said. “Andola is going to be a great mentor for her coming back from rehab and the injury, because she’s been through it. They are going to be a great tandem going forward. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coaching both of them, and I can’t wait to have them both on the court again.”
Cullop is also excited to see what Shafir can do after learning from a coach’s perspective this season.
There is no set timetable for Shafir’s return, but Cullop is encouraged by what the doctors have reported.
“They are really excited about where she is at right now,” Cullop said. “If she was going to have this injury, I’m glad it happened as early as it did. In my history with players who have had it, you don’t see them back mentally for a year. It takes a long time. Your body is ready, but your mind says, ‘Don’t cut hard.’”
“It’s not just about my knee being ready,” Shafir said. “It’s not going to be easy mentally to come back. It takes a while.”
Cullop said the main mental obstacle to overcome is fear of reinjury, which is made worse by scar tissue.
“She’s got to learn how to retrain her mind to know she’s going to be OK, and to break up some scar tissue and realize that’s not the ACL tear again,” she said. “When you break up some of that scar tissue, believe me it’s a scary moment. She’ll have plenty of time to fight through that and get strong before we put her back out there.”
Once Shafir is back out there, Cullop expects her to play stronger.
“Any kid I’ve ever had that comes back from an ACL comes back with a vengeance,” Cullop said. “They cannot wait to get back on the court and they value every second. I think that’s the Naama Shafir you’re going to see when she comes back.”