For Gregory, a new knee, a new perspective
Sophomore guard/forward gains perspective from season-ending injury
Published: Sunday, November 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, November 3, 2013 16:11
Before most students are awake, Rachael Gregory is working out and putting up shots to improve her basketball game. Unlike the rest of her teammates who start their season on Friday, Gregory is working hard to play in December or January when the women’s basketball team is almost halfway through its season.
Even after the Bulls won their first exhibition game, Gregory – a sophomore guard/forward on the women’s basketball team – was not celebrating with her teammates or going home to rest for her early workouts the next morning. She was at the free-throw line taking shots, trying to get better in any way possible.
For the past seven months, Gregory has been rehabbing her knee after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), lateral meniscus and medial meniscus.
Before Gregory suffered her injury last year, she led the Bulls in scoring as a freshman. She recorded double-digit scoring games 10 times in 17 games and ranked second in minutes.
She said this has been the biggest challenge she has ever had to endure, but she believes she will come back an even better player.
“You have to keep a positive attitude,” Gregory said. “When you first blow your knee out, it’s hard to stay positive, but I’ve grown so much from this experience on and off the court.”
Gregory is used to leading her team on the court. She helped North Central High School win the Indiana State Championship her senior year.
“That was definitely one of the best feelings,” Gregory said. “It was nice to leave on top and know that there is no other game to play after that.”
Her team was loaded with talented players that year, as some of her teammates went to high-profile universities like Purdue, Georgia Tech and Dayton. Gregory had only four points in the championship game, but her lack of scoring didn’t bother her.
“It doesn’t matter how many points you get,” Gregory said. “The only thing that matters is if you win.”
Gregory’s determination pushes her to compete at the highest level every night. She doesn’t let her individual goals deter her from the team’s goals.
“It bothers a lot of coaches when you have to light a fire underneath a kid’s feet to motivate them,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “You don’t have that in her. She’s always ready to go.”
Gregory is hungry to get better and to win – an attitude she has had her whole life, and it goes beyond just the hardwood.
Gregory grew up in Indianapolis, Ind., where basketball is more than a sport – it’s a way of life. Indiana’s basketball-loving culture combined with Gregory’s work ethic to motivate her to excel on the court and in the classroom.
Gregory wants to play professional basketball after she graduates from UB with a degree in communication. If she doesn’t make the pros, she wants to pursue a career in sports broadcasting or sports management. Her love for the game runs too deep not to pursue basketball in the next stage of her life.
Because of that love, she wakes up early every morning to put in the extra effort so she can come back this season – even if that means breaking down the parts of her game that need improvement.
She takes criticism well – something other athletes can struggle with, especially those like Gregory who are so physically gifted. Gregory believes the injury has helped her mature in basketball and life.
“Physically, it was hard at first because I had to basically relearn how to walk,” Gregory said. “You don’t really think about that stuff, so I’ve learned to trust my body more. Mentally, I’m just tougher. You can’t think about the injury or getting hurt again, so I think I’m stronger mentally.”
Gregory was able to get advice from seven-time all-star and the 2011 WNBA Most Valuable Player Tamika Catchings. Gregory reached out to Catchings for advice on her injury. While at the University of Tennessee, Catchings tore her ACL. She shared her story with Gregory and told her to stay positive and learn as much as possible while recovering.
Gregory’s rehabilitation has made her more compassionate toward people with disabilities. Her mother, Cheryl Strode-Gregory, said her daughter would struggle with simple tasks like getting out of the car because of the injury.
Gregory continued to feel for the disabled even after she healed enough to walk. She becameemotional when seeing others have difficulties doing everyday chores. Every time she sees someone struggling with simple tasks now, Gregory does her best to go out of her way to help.
“I have two functioning arms and legs,” Gregory said. “I’m getting better but some people have to live with that the rest of their lives, so it’s just given me a greater understanding.”
Since high school, the only speed Gregory has known is full speed. Whether playing basketball or competing for state titles as a sprinter,Gregory only wanted to go fast.
“She’s 100 miles an hour,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s not the best at free throws because it’s too slow. She’s an active person and needs to be moving and I love that about her, but we have to slow her down.”
Speed is something that can’t be taught, but Legette-Jack wants Gregory to be in control and have patience – not just on the basketball court, but also rehabbing her knee.
If she tries to rush the process, her knee could become more damaged and her return could be further prolonged. Gregory’s patience has forced her to take the recovery process one step at a time.