A walk-on last year, junior forward Danielle Brinkley injured her knee in the first game of the season.
Junior forward Danielle Brinkley told herself that this would be the season she made an impact on the court. Last year, Brinkley took one of the more difficult routes to becoming a NCAA athlete by making the women’s basketball team as a walk-on. Walk-ons are players who are not actively recruited or given a scholarship.
“It was a new experience,” Brinkley said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was happy with the opportunity [coach Tonya Cardoza] gave me to be on the team.”
Brinkley and two other girls showed up at the team’s first practice last year. After just one drill, Cardoza asked one of the girls to leave. Ten minutes later, it was another girl’s turn.
“Some of the kids that were there, I just knew it would be a waste of their time for them to be there, and Danielle obviously wasn’t one of them,” Cardoza said.
“I was feeling nervous, but after an hour, I was like, ‘OK, I’m still here, so I must be doing something right,’” Brinkley added.
Brinkley did not come out of nowhere to join the team. Cardoza knew Brinkley had played for Elizabeth Seton High School in Maryland, and she had worked out with the team before that first practice.
Last season, Brinkley appeared in 16 games.
“She just has a work ethic and an attitude about her that she was serious about this,” Cardoza said. “She wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let me try this.’ She worked really hard over this past season to get in shape, and I told her at the end of last season that the expectation level was going to be a lot greater, and she came back in great shape and ready to contribute, and I think she would have been in the rotation.”
In Temple’s season opener against Illinois, Brinkley entered the game off the bench. But after pulling down two rebounds in two minutes, she went down with an injury.
“I was trying to make the catch for the rebound, trying to make an awesome catch, and just landed incorrectly,” Brinkley said.
After further evaluation from the team trainer, Mischa Jemionek, and the team physician, it was determined that Brinkley had a dislocated tibia, which partially tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and caused a micro fracture in her knee.
“At first, it felt like, ‘This is happening all over again,’ because in my senior year [of high school] I tore my ACL, so it was like déjà vu,” Brinkley said.
When she tore her ACL the first time in high school, she played through it before learning she had a season-ending injury. This time, Brinkley knew right away something was wrong.
“This time it was like, ‘Ah, I can’t walk,’” she said.
If an athlete is injured during a practice or game, the university has secondary insurance that covers the cost for surgeries and anything else an athlete may need. It is up to team trainers and team physicians to coordinate the aspects of a player’s treatment by handling everything from finding transportation to rehabilitation before and after surgeries.
Right now, Brinkley still cannot put weight on the affected leg and will remain on crutches for about six weeks. This affects the type of rehabilitation she can do.
“There’s always limitations,” Jemionek said. “Every surgery is different, depending on if they go in and find something unexpected. If they have to do something different, then there’s going to be limitations based on the procedure they did. Depending on what they do sort of dictates how far you can push them.”
For now, Brinkley and Jemionek meet twice a day for rehabilitation, where they work on “small stuff” to get her strength in her quadriceps muscles back, Brinkley said.
“I have a high tolerance for pain, so I try to push myself,” she added.
Injured players typically do not travel with the team to away games, except for weekends or during a break in the school year. During games, Brinkley will sometimes offer insight or observations from the bench to her teammates as a way to contribute.
“If we see something, we’re going to say something,” Brinkley said. “It’s hard to watch because you just want to get out there and help them.”
“I think she wants to be a coach in some ways,” Cardoza added. “I think that’s something she might look into down the road, but that’s just her way of trying to bring something to the team.”
Brinkley has remained upbeat despite the circumstances, which has impressed Cardoza.
“I’m shocked by it,” Cardoza said. “There’s never been a time where she’s been like, ‘Woe is me,’ or feeling sorry for herself. She walks around with a smile on her face even right after it happened. You love to see that in a kid because it shows that she’s selfless and didn’t want the focus to be on her and her injury.”
Even though Brinkley may be unable to take the court this season, she still does work behind the scenes to not only get back into shape but to help her team.
“I’m going to work hard, not only to get back to where I was but [to be] even better,” Brinkley said. “You’ll see me.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.