Baylor Women Begin Tournament at Full-StrengthMarch 19, 2010
While it's not exactly been forever since Baylor guard Melissa Jones was on the floor, it seems a lifetime ago for the Lady Bears, who essentially spent the entire Big 12 season without her services. Lost in January to a stress condition in her right leg, an already young Baylor squad found itself without its leader. Losing Jones, a player whose contributions go far beyond her statistics, was a major blow to a squad that regularly played five freshmen.
At practice this week before flying west to the Bay Area, Melissa Jones moved quietly to one side, rhythmically draining jumper after jumper before the team came together. That practice, and the ones leading up to the game are very important to a player who has only played a few minutes since the calendar turned to 2010.
That chemistry is the biggest thing. The team will have to re-learn to play with the part that made their engine work before her injury. On a veteran team, this might not be such an issue. But it is for a team that's as young as Baylor, even one so accomplished already.
While an injury isn't an ideal way to test a team's character, Melissa Jones says she's observed some traits that could be positives taken into the postseason and beyond. You might think the game would mean more to a player who's had to sit on the sidelines for two months. And while it does, Jones her teammates have experienced the same feeling.
Morghan Medlock is the only senior on the team. As one of only two other upperclassmen playing regularly, she's seen firsthand the struggles that come when young players lose a veteran presence. And it's not just the loss of Jones. After uber-freshman Brittney Griner punched a Texas Tech player, the team played without her for two games. With everyone back, Medlock believes it's part of the Lady Bear program's character to use the time spent shorthanded as a positive.
They'll have to use it as a positive to go far in the tournament. They start off with Fresno State tomorrow night, and the field is talented. But they'll fly to the West Coast lifted by having their full host of players, including one in Jones, who says she feels ready to be the player she was before the injury.
The Lady Bears tip off tomorrow night at 9:30 p.m. in Berkely, California. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.