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Buford's Carter completes long road back to basketball court
Tennessee signee spent nearly a year rehabing left knee after ACL injury
Buford High’s Andraya Carter works out with her teammates during a Wednesday afternoon practice for the Lady Wolves. Carter is still recovering from a torn ACL that has kept her off the court this season. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Andraya Carter, dressed in her Buford basketball uniform for the first time this season, warmed up with the rest of her team before a game against Westminster on Friday.

Showing no signs of the injury that had kept her off the court for the first half of the season, save for the obstructive brace on her knee, she ran, played defense, juked and cut her way around her teammates.

When game time arrived, she wasn't in the starting lineup, but it took less than three minutes for her to enter the game to a chorus of cheers from the fans.

After suffering a partial tear to her anterior cruciate ligament in a pick-up game nearly a year ago, there were no guarantees about when, or if, she'd be able to play at a high level again.

Any questions were put to rest quickly.

She jumped over opposing players, stole passes, grabbed rebounds and went coast-to-coast. Her numbers were modest - eight points and five rebounds - but it was just being back out there, she said, that felt great.

"I was a little rusty," she said after the game. "My shot wasn't falling, but it felt great to be back out there with my teammates."

And the knee?

"It felt good. Felt fine," she said. "Every time I left my feet, people kept telling me to be careful, but it was fine."

There were occasions where Carter, a University of Tennessee signee, left her feet, leaping over the other players, and tumbling to the floor.

Collective intakes of breath from around the crowd could be heard, but none from her coach, Gene Durden.

"She's playing like she needs to," he said. "She needs to be normal; she needs to play normal. Normal for her is playing hard on every play."

But the worry from others is understandable given her long road back to the court.

It began eight months ago, trainer Chris Demaline said.

Eight months filled with rigorous leg exercises, abdominal and lower-back workouts, hours spent in an endless pool and plenty more.

"And we're not finished yet," Demaline said. "It's an ongoing process."

Demaline said that the hardest phase of rehab is actually getting back on the court.

"The planting, cutting and absorbing the impact on the knee is difficult," he said. "Just learning to do that again is probably the hardest part."

Carter said that, looking back on the whole process, it's amazing how far she's come.

"It was tough," she said. "I still talk about it with the trainer, remembering how hard it was to do certain things. You basically have to learn to walk all over again."

Durden praised the job Demaline was able to do with Carter.

"We're very lucky to have a great trainer that has done so well with her," he said.

Demaline said that the process would continue until she was ready to take the brace off, which usually happens within a year of beginning rehab.

"We take measurements of the knee," he said. "When the legs are equal, we'll be able to take the brace off. I think the brace might even hurt her a little bit. I think she'll be even better when that brace can come off."

More difficult than the rehab process, perhaps, was knowing that she would miss a chunk of her senior year.

For a competitor like Carter, a standout since her freshman season, not being on the court was something she wasn't prepared for.

"That might have been the most frustrating part," she said. "Because the team was playing such a tough schedule, and they did great. I just would have loved to be out there to help my team."

Durden said that it was a credit to her positive attitude that she was able to make it through the process.

"For her senior year, it's tough," he said. "But she's had a great attitude. She's a great competitor with a great work ethic. We never doubted she'd do what she needed to do to get healthy. That's just the type of person she is."

Carter said that, more than her own attitude, it was the support of the others around her and her faith in God that helped motivate her.

"It's a test of faith," she said. "But you have to trust in God and know that it's part of his plan. Everything happens for a reason. I'm just thankful for everyone's support, and I'm happy to be playing again."

Missing time helped to increase her appreciation and love for the game.

"Just knowing it can be taken from you at any time," she said. "It helps to know that, and I appreciate it and love it even more now."

Her team is undoubtedly thrilled to have her back on the court as well. Durden said that, while the team found success during her injury, there is no replacing her on the court.

"It's not just the scoring," he said. "Everyone notices the scoring, but it's a lot of other things she does out there that people don't notice. She plays so hard, and brings so much energy to the court."

And now, as the rehab process continues to progress, Carter can focus on playing out the rest of her senior year and taking her game to Tennessee in the fall.

"I'm just so happy to be back," she said. "I love it so much."


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