Nov. 24, 2009
By Taylor Soper
SEATTLE -- The tears came down senior guard Lydia Young's face as she answered questions about the news she received last week.
She might never play basketball again.
In the locker room earlier this month after an exhibition win over Corban College, Young announced in front of her teammates that she was going to have season -- and possibly career -- ending surgery because of severe tendinitis in her right knee. And that's when it started to sink in.
"It probably didn't hit me until I got into the locker room," Young explained, fighting back tears. "Seeing my teammates and having to tell them that [the doctors] called my season and knowing that I'm not going to be able to play again ... it just rushed to me like, `wow.'"
Young has a severe case of patella-femoral syndrome, a complex condition caused by friction between the patella and the groove in the femur that is so severe, Young might not be able to handle playing basketball anymore.
This summer, the pain in her right knee started to build up and Young began preparing for the possibility of not playing. While she didn't give up hope of playing, Young knew that mentally, she had to be ready.
"It wasn't giving up, but I just had to prepare myself for the next thing if something was wrong," she said. "Just because I'm not going to be able to be successful with basketball doesn't mean I won't be a successful person, period."
And just because Young is out for this season doesn't mean her presence won't be felt on and off the court. Head coach Tia Jackson fully expects her senior to influence the team just as she has done during her time playing at the UW.
"I think one of the things that we depend on as a family is her energy," Jackson said. "She's kind of the jokester, and she's just a silly girl. We expect the jokes or dancing before the game; that's just her personality. When we don't see those things, then we know something is really going on."
Last year, Young played in 27 games, averaging 2.5 points and 2.9 rebounds. Even though Young won't be making baskets or grabbing boards, the team still needs her more than ever.
"We rely on her senior leadership a lot," Jackson said. "She's got players out there who will listen to her, and they need her voice. At the same time, her enthusiasm on the floor is key for us. We're going to take both of those things, and she's going to help guide us through the year."
Jackson has dealt with her own hardships as a player. The third-year head coach underwent seven surgeries and can relate to Young and the difficulties she is now facing. Young will come into Jackson's office, and the two will spend hours discussing everything from Young's future to just life in general. "I've been there, and I really had to make some decisions that were best for my life," Jackson explained. "I shared those stories with her. We make sure she is planning for life; even if she was playing, these are things I do with each of my kids who are getting ready to step into the world as young women."
From the days when the Detroit native would say, "Do the Dumars" while dunking on the hoop in her crib -- a reference to former Pistons great Joe Dumars -- to her experiences as a Division-I player, there's no doubt that Young has fully appreciated and respected what the game of basketball has given her.
"Basketball basically helped me define myself," Young said. "The opportunity to be this girl from Detroit, from then until now, just being able to stand tall and have Washington on the jersey, my name on the back and Mom watching me on TV ... there's nothing more I can really ask for."
Now that Young knows that she might not be able to ever play again, she's trying to help her teammates realize that they shouldn't take anything for granted. She now completely understands the difference between not wanting to do something and not being able to do something at all.
"I'll be the first one to tell them: `You tired? Get over it. What if you can't do it anymore?'" Young said. "I'm trying to get them to realize that this is serious. Just appreciate what you have, and don't take it for granted."
Young, who is majoring in American Ethnic Studies and plans to graduate this year, is staying busy despite the recent news. Her surgery is scheduled within the next three weeks, but Young has handled the news with a strong heart and continues to stay active.
The senior isn't one to take something like this and suffer. She knows that just because basketball might be over, it doesn't mean she can't do anything else.
"It's only hard if I make it hard," Young said. "I stay busy, and I don't just sit and mope. Whether it's helping at practice, texting teammates, making resumes, or making phone calls for interviews -- I'm just focused on the future, and I don't want to be like one of those people with a lot of excuses. It's the same thing; the difference is that I can't play basketball."
Regardless of what the doctors tell her, Young hasn't ruled out the possibility of her stepping on the court again and competing.
"I'm not the one to quit," Young said. "You just never know; this might just be for now. You never know what might happen in two to three years. Stay tuned."