See, first you gotta get a little flexibility. Yeah. Then you can put weight on it. Then once you start to put weight on it, the whole leg gets stronger.
I know. I know. I’m in a hurry, too, Pops. But you know what Hadrian said about Rome.
“Brick by brick, my citizens. Brick by brick.”
– Tobey Maguire as jockey Red Pollard in “Seabiscuit”
Ashley Santos describes the process of rehabilitating her injured right knee as being like “building one brick at a time.” And while it’s now been nearly two years since that process began, Santos is just about ready to put the last brick in place.
It was January 2012 when Santos, then a senior at Geneva High School, collapsed to the floor at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park during the annual McDonald’s Shootout with a torn ACL in her right knee.
Surgery followed, putting an end to the high school basketball career of the Marquette University recruit.
“Coming out of the first time I tore it, I rehabbed throughout the summer,” Santos recalls. “For my freshman season [at Marquette], they redshirted me. We made the decision to rehab.”
Any building project can run into unexpected delays and the process of rebuilding her right knee hit a big one.
“Around Christmastime, I started doing more practices and stuff and ended up tearing it again,” Santos says. “We made the decision that we had to go back in and fix it up again.”
Milwaukee orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Michael Gordon, the team physician for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, led the team performing the surgery.
“The doctors made sure I had a really strong ACL,” Santos says. “I had a donor, so it’s not my tissue this time. They assured me that everything is strong.”
This past spring, Santos started rehabbing the knee once more, doing physical therapy and lifting weights.
“When I was able to be more active, I did a lot of sprinting and running,” she says. “That’s just how the process goes, building one brick at a time.”
On Nov. 1, almost 22 months after the initial tear, the 5-foot-11 guard finally returned to the court and scored six points in 12 minutes as Marquette defeated Wisconsin-Whitewater, 78-59.
“It was very overwhelming at first because it felt like such a long time since I’d been out there playing,” she notes. “The knee feels great. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’m playing in a brace, but that’s just the last process of my healing.”
Once she’s cleared to play without the brace, Santos finally can check off the last item on the punch list for the rebuilding of her right knee, which should enable her to contribute more to a Marquette team that likes to get up and down the floor.
“My team is all about defense, rebounding, and running,” she says. “I just take that into one of my pride things, that I try to be that spark, whatever my team needs.”
Santos said she’s getting stronger and faster with each passing day. She’s still has a ways to go before her overall play is where she would like it to be – she’s shooting 30 percent from the field and her assist-to-turnover ratio is 0.6 – but she’s coming off her best game of the year. She scored 12 points in 26 minutes of action Sunday as the Golden Eagles (7-2) thrashed Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 71-52. She hit on 5 of 10 shots from the floor, including 2 of 4 from beyond the 3-point line, grabbed three rebounds, and dished out a pair of assists.
“For me, I felt the rhythm coming back and being in the flow,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in my coaches and teammates. I wouldn’t be progressing without them.”
At Geneva, Santos displayed tremendous speed and agility on the court and an ability to contribute in every facet of the game, making her a highly sought-after recruit. Many major colleges came knocking on her door, including USC, California and Purdue.
“It got heavy and overwhelming at times,” Santos says. “I remember coming on my visit [to Marquette]. I came with my family. I knew by the end of the visit, this is the place I wanted to be.”
She found the environment at the Jesuit school in Milwaukee welcoming.
“It’s close to home and it’s a really good school,” she adds. “What my team takes pride in, I take pride in. We have the same values on and off the court.”
That includes engaging in community service work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Soles for Jesus. The latter organization provides shoes to needy people in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Doing those kind of things really opened up my eyes about the world,” Santos says.
Habitat for Humanity, which constructs housing for impoverished people around the world, seems like a particularly good fit for Santos. After all, she knows all about building brick by brick.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle on area athletes competing in college. If you have a column idea, contact him at email@example.com.