The college basketball world was stunned after the announcement on Wednesday that UConn women’s star Paige Bueckers will miss the 2022-23 season due to a ruptured AFC Champions League.
The Bakers injured her left knee during a small game on Monday and will have surgery Friday at UConn Health, according to the team’s release. An update on the schedule for restoring them will be provided after the procedure.
The 5-foot-11 goalkeeper missed 19 games last season after sustaining a fracture of his anterior tibial plateau and a meniscus tear in the same left knee. After a rehabilitation period that lasted just over two months, from surgery on December 13 to returning to play on February 25, she continued where she left off, averaging 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
1 former recruit who graduated from high school in 2020, Bakers also suffered an ankle injury during her sophomore year in high school and a strain reaction in her right leg due to overuse as a student.
The Bakers decided to stay at Storrs this summer, hoping to get stronger and prevent injury. Then this setback occurred.
“We are all devastated by Paige,” said Ocon coach Gino Orima. “She’s really worked hard to get stronger and healthier in the off-season, and that’s an unfortunate setback. Paige is obviously a great basketball player but she’s a better character and a better teammate and it’s really unfortunate that this has happened to her.”
Bueckers received nine singles awards and certificates of appreciation during their first season at UConn. She became the first student to win any of the National Women’s College Player of the Year awards when she claimed to be eligible for the Naismith, AP, USBWA, and Wooden Awards in 2021.
Dr. Chris Weir, an orthopedic surgeon at the Bone and Joint Institute at Hartford Hospital, spoke about what an ACL injury could mean for her career.
What is the anterior cruciate ligament and why is it important?
ware: The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the four major ligaments that stabilize the knee. It helps control knee rotation, as well as the anterior translation of the shin bone onto the thigh bone. The most common mechanism of injury is exactly what (Bueckers) was injured, it was a non-contact injury, where there is some kind of sudden slowdown, maybe a bit of pivoting. When the ACL is torn, unfortunately the ACL will not heal on its own. And so for a top-level athlete, don’t really expect that you’ll be able to get back into exercise without rebuilding.
After reconstruction, what is the typical timeline for recovery? Is it faster for athletes?
ware: High-profile athletes will receive immediate treatment such as sports training and physical therapy – which I believe will help in their recovery. So college athletes, professional athletes, they have athletic trainers and physical therapists working with them. However, the return to sports is still six to 12 months. We know that returning to sports before nine months carries an increased risk of fracture.
The bulk of it is individual factors as some people seem to regain strength faster than others – more than just their strength, agility and coordination. These things must be back before you can safely return to sports.
Why is an ACL tear such a common injury?
ware: Because the non-contact pivoting motion tends to put a lot of stress on the ACL, there’s usually no quick presentation to get you to protect it. And I think that’s the main reason why so many ACL tears appear.
Will previous injuries increase the Bakers risk?
ware: I think they are separate. I don’t think tibial plateau and meniscus tears increased her ACL risk. The reports I saw were that she had regained her strength, she felt stronger than ever. She felt fine. Assuming she underwent all rehab and was doing very well, it probably didn’t increase her risk of an ACL injury.
Could exhausting her body increase her risk of an ACL rupture?
ware: It can be tired. So, if you get to a point where you feel tired, and we see this especially in like alpine skiing, but I’m sure in many other sports, where fatigue increases your risk of a teardrop ACL.
Will an ACL injury affect her later in her career?
ware: Unfortunately, not everyone returns to play after ACL reconstruction. Usually, once people regain their strength, coordination, and agility, we can expect that they will do well once they return to the sport. In the future, you will be more likely to develop arthritis. We know after an ACL rupture, whether or not you will have an ACL reconstruction, there is a higher risk of developing arthritis. Then there’s the risk that you won’t go back to the level you were playing at before.
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