The joy of watching Reed's Gabby Williams – arguably the best high school girls basketball player to ever come out of northern Nevada – return from last year's devastating knee injury, has been replaced with heartbreak.
With puffy eyes after devastating news from the doc earlier in the day last Tuesday, Williams told me her high school career was over. She was bewildered.
"I was in seriously the biggest state of shock ever … The second time was probably 20 times harder. I couldn't believe it," Williams said of hearing she had retorn her ACL. "Like, how was I just playing? I didn't feel any different."
Williams believed she simply tweaked the surgically repaired ACL in a win two weeks ago at Spanish Springs (Jan. 21) but an MRI after a home loss to Reno three days later, revealed a new tear in the ligament.
The results of the MRI were not available until last Tuesday afternoon so Williams played two games on the reinjured knee before realizing the extent of the injury. In what proved to be her final game in a Reed uniform, Williams did not wear tape, or a brace, on her knee in a 66-44 win at Galena.
For those who have seen her play, there is no need to explain her talents. She is by far the most athletic player on the court. The same would likely be said if she suited up with the boys. It is her almost-hard-to-believe athleticism that landed her a scholarship at the best college women’s basketball program in the country, UConn.
It is also her rare ability that earned her a spot in April's McDonald’s High School All American Game. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see her play in that game.
It doesn’t seem fair.
With last week’s news, Williams – a five-star recruit on ESPN – has rapidly been shoved onto center stage. The Truckee Meadows media, while showing overwhelming sympathy, went nuts over the news of Williams’ injury.
Holding her head high, Williams has handled the far-too-soon conclusion of her high school career with the maturity of an adult. In Friday’s win over Hug, just three days after hearing she was done, Williams did not pout on the bench. She did not sulk. She was not distant, asking ‘why?’ She sat right next to head coach Sara Ramirez and kept stats while playing the impromptu role of assistant coach.
"I don't want to go to practice and just be in a down mood so I try to stay positive and keep them (teammates) enthused and stuff," Williams said. "The last thing I want, really, is for them to roll over and say 'oh, we have an excuse to lose now.' I want them to be like 'watch, we can do this without Gabby.' And I really believe that they can."
Williams' absence from the floor undoubtedly changes things for the Raiders. But perhaps her leadership, and continuing presence within the team, can help fill the void. With Williams playing an active role on the sideline Friday, Reed scored a season-high 97 points in a romp over Hug.
The Hawks are struggling this year and have only won two league games but Friday’s barrage indicates maybe the Raiders have something going.
The torn ACL also ended Williams' track season. In the (2012) summer, before her junior year, she competed in the US Olympic trials, where she placed fifth in the high jump. Clearing 6-2.25, she tied the American record for a 15-year-old.
"I decided not to do track (at UConn) so it was just like this track season is just going to be fun and I was really looking forward to it…," Williams said. "I was really upset about that. The last meet I was ever in was the Olympic trials."
The reality is Williams has already become a local celebrity, which unfortunately has developed further as a result of her re-injured knee rather than her ability to absolutely dominate on the hardwood.
It has been impressive, if not moving, watching Williams handle this brutal twist of fortune while remaining in the spotlight.
"It's been tough," Williams said. "Right now I'm okay because I'm walking and stuff like that but I know as soon as I'm stuck in bed doing nothing, last year I did fight a little bit of a depression. So, I know once I'm stuck in bed, I'll probably be in a downer mood."
Williams is flying to Connecticut today and will have surgery on her knee Thursday.
Many will now question Reed’s ability to compete with Reno for a North title without Williams. Few should question Williams’ ability to return from this setback. Ramirez has characterized her star as a “gamer.” She will be back.
And while she was stripped of her senior season, and we were stripped of the ability to watch the phenom, that will soon change.
She will be playing on a much larger stage come next year and we will be watching from the comfort of the couch on ESPN.
Williams said she plans to be ready for UConn's season-opener next year.
Is it fair? Not by any definition of the word. But while most will understandably lament over the ACL sequel, maybe we should grin having watched Williams. We may not see another local high school talent like Williams again.