Saturday, October 01, 2005

Joint Action

Lady Vols will have to collaborate on treating Wiley-Gatewood's sore knee

Tennessee Lady Vols point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood continues to battle through tendinitis in her left knee.

When Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood lays her head down to sleep at night, she counts questions, not sheep.

How can I be a leader?

How can I build trust with my teammates?

How am I going to get in sync with my teammates if I'm getting pulled from practice?

There are so many questions, but no easy answers.

Wiley-Gatewood, a Tennessee women's basketball sophomore, had offseason surgery to address a severe case of tendinitis in the patella tendon of her left knee. The condition curtailed her rookie season.

The point guard rehabbed during the summer and cruised through the first three weeks of preseason basketball and conditioning workouts.

Then her knee flared up. And the vicious cycle of inquiries ensued.

Lady Vols athletic trainer Jenny Moshak described tendinitis as "very complicated, very never-ending."

While the surgery addressed Wiley-Gatewood's condition, it obviously couldn't change the forces that helped create the condition in the first place.

"The sport is just brutal on the patella tendon,'' Moshak said.

In turn, it can be pretty tough on the player, too.

"I thought this was going to be the year," Wiley-Gatewood said. "It was going to be perfect.''

While it doesn't hurt to be hopeful, Wiley-Gatewood is better served by being realistic.

"This is something that's not going to go away,'' she said.

Therefore, only one question really matters: How does she deal with this?

"I think it's like you have to take her pulse every day and see how she's feeling,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said.

The care will be long term. The first order of business was re-emphasizing the proper line of communication. It runs from Wiley-Gatewood's knee through her to Moshak and then on to Summitt.

"They want me to tell them right away when it starts bothering me,'' Wiley-Gatewood said. "When (the knee) talks to me, I have to go talk to Jenny.''

Last week's dialogue resulted in Wiley-Gatewood doing conditioning rather than basketball when she was unable to endure consecutive days.

The months of down time last year were costly to her stamina. When she played, Wiley-Gatewood said that she was good for only two trips up the court before being winded.

Above all, she wants to preserve the endurance she built during the summer.

That's an easier choice now. As the season draws closer, the tug of the sport will be stronger.

At the root of Wiley-Gatewood's restless nights are the responsibilities of her position. She wants to build a rapport with coach and teammates. The yearning will grow stronger when real practice starts in less than two weeks. Any down time will be downright painful, apart from any knee discomfort.

"That's the hard part," Summitt said, "listening to your body when you want to establish your place with the team.''

It's easier if Wiley-Gatewood also listens to a teammate.

"Everyone is fully aware of what she can do,'' Lady Vol Nicky Anosike said. "I've talked to her. She seems to have a pretty positive attitude. Sometimes that's all you need to pull through is a positive attitude. I'm confident she'll be back.''

A 13-game glimpse of Wiley-Gatewood last season amounted to an eyeful. She hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers and scored nine of her 12 points in the final five minutes of a 68-67 victory at Connecticut, including the decisive driving layup and subsequent free throw with 15 seconds left.

The Lady Vols might be able to cover for Wiley-Gatewood's point-guard duties, but they can't replace her skills or her fearlessness.

Summitt said a mouthful by simply saying: "She can hit the open shots. She's a natural.''

Wiley-Gatewood doesn't need to establish a presence. She needs to try her best to maintain one. That should be her sole concern.

She managed to put together consecutive days of work this week. That ought be worth a restful night.

Notebook: Tennessee's game at South Carolina has been moved up a day to Jan. 4. The change allows for an extra day before the Jan. 7 home game with Connecticut. ... Lady Vol Sidney Spencer, who is recovering from knee surgery, was on the court for Thursday's workout. ... Kentucky, which is coached by former Lady Vol assistant Mickie DeMoss, has received a verbal commitment from Christian County (Ky.) forward Arnika Brown, a consensus top 50 national prospect.

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