Andraya “Draya” Carter had initially hoped the injury was limited to the MCL and meniscus – a scenario that would have kept her off the court two months or less – but an MRI last week showed the damage to the ACL and the need for surgery, which will take place June 6.
Andraya Carter called Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt after the initial injury and then again to tell her about the MRI results. Carter said she also called Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick to talk about the left knee injury.
“I am keeping them updated and letting them know who the surgeon is and what we’re doing,” Carter said. “They are definitely being really supportive through the whole thing, and that is why I am really happy to be a Lady Vol.
“They told me they trust me and they trust what we’re doing. Coach Summitt has been great.”
Carter, who has met current and former Lady Vols at camps and as their paths crossed in summer basketball, especially the others from the state of Georgia, including Alicia Manning and Kelley Cain, said she had received a lot of text messages of support.
“All the Lady Vols have texted me, even Kelley, who has graduated,” said Carter, who has made multiple trips to Tennessee on unofficial visits to watch games. “Everybody has been really supportive. I just love everybody up there. I am really close to them, and I think they know me well enough to know that we’re going to do everything we can to get me back. I will work hard.”
Carter committed to Tennessee in March of 2010, shortly before the end of her sophomore season at Buford High School in Buford, Ga., which has three Class AA state titles under Carter’s command. Her Lady Wolves teammate is fellow Lady Vol commit Kaela Davis, who is in the class of 2013. The pair also play together on the successful Georgia Ice AAU team, which is coached by Davis’ father, former NBA stalwart Antonio Davis.
Last summer Carter was one of four players selected to Team USA’s 17-and-under 3-on-3 girls team that participated in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
Carter had been invited to training camp for the USA Basketball U19 team, but her knee injury derailed those plans, and the 17-year-old was not able to make the trip to Colorado for tryouts last week.
“It was really frustrating at first, because I wanted to go to USA and I had been training,” Carter said. “Even before we knew it was an ACL I was disappointed because USA is such a good time and just to be around some of the best basketball players in the nation. When I found out it was an ACL, it was definitely tough.
“But I have faith. I think my faith in God helps just knowing that he does everything for a reason. I have a lot of support. My family is supportive, my coaches, future coaches and teammates are really supportive. It’s easy when you have strong support around you. It’s easy to stay positive.”
Carter’s parents, Gary “Tyke” and Jessica Lhamon, and three younger siblings, brother Curt and sisters Alli and Zoey, also have rallied around her.
“I almost feel bad for them because they get the worst of it when I’m frustrated,” Carter said. “They’re here every step of the way. They’re doing everything that I need. Besides God I have to lean on my parents the most because they know me better than anyone.
“My little brother is the most curious. He went to physical therapy with me and he watched. He even carried my book bag to my car every morning. My two little sisters, they’re a little older, so they kind of know what’s going on. My little brother was probably the most worried and concerned. They keep me smiling.”
Davis just made the 12-player cut this weekend for the USA Basketball U16 team.
“Kaela is my best friend,” Carter said. “When I told her she was definitely upset. She was up at USA (in Colorado) when she found out. We talked about it. She was really supportive saying, ‘You got it; we’ll be fine,’ all that kind of stuff. I was like, ‘You’re up at USA. Do your thing.’ She was still very supportive even from another part of the country.
“She is always supportive. We definitely help each other through different things. She was one of the first people I told.”
Carter injured the knee playing pickup basketball after school two weeks ago when she lunged for a pass while getting back on defense.
“No one hit me or anything; there wasn’t a collision,” Carter said. “I was getting back on defense, and I was leaning to try to get a tip on a pass, landed awkwardly and it kind of collapsed on me.”
She initially thought she had just rolled her ankle but her knee was swollen the next day so she sought medical attention at school and then also went to see a physician. An MRI confirmed the extent of the damage, and Carter started “pre-hab” immediately to strengthen the leg muscles before surgery, especially her quads.
“We’re trying to get it as strong as we can, all the muscles around it, before surgery,” Carter said.
The 5’9 guard from Flowery Branch, Ga., will now spend the summer recovering from knee surgery with an eye on playing at some point in her senior season of high school. Carter is known for her fierce devotion to training so she is expected to attack rehab.
“Yes ma’am,” she said. “The plan is to start rehab June 8.”
Evaluations of Carter’s play usually mention her leadership ability, overall athleticism, speed, ball handling skills and vertical leap, which was measured at 30.5 inches at a Nike training session, exceeding that of current Lady Vol Glory Johnson and former Lady Vol Candace Parker by two inches. Johnson holds the school record for women’s basketball at Tennessee followed closely by Parker.
“It’s God-given. I have to thank him for it,” Carter said. “My parents are athletic. We have a great weight-lifting program at school. The football coaches actually work with us. We have a class in weight-lifting.”
That training includes use of a Vertimax device, “which is like jumping with weights,” Carter said. “I definitely think it has helped my technique and my jumping. Explosive training has definitely helped me.”
That level of fitness will also help Carter in the coming months of rehab, and she is optimistic that she could return in time to still play some of her senior season in high school before enrolling next summer at Tennessee.
“It’s a four- to six-month recovery,” Carter said. “So we’re going to hit it hard, but we’re not going to be dumb about it or push it too much. As much as I can do that is what I am going to do and take it one step at a time.
“It’s progressive. You go from getting a range of motion to walking to jogging to sprinting to cutting. It just depends on what it is able to do and how much you are able to do in rehab.
“I should be back for most of my high school senior because we start later in late November, early December.”
Carter just completed her junior year with all As in the classroom and has maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout high school, ranking her second in her class.
Carter intends to play professional basketball after college but then hopes to work with autistic and other challenged children.
“I have a strong interest in working with disabled or special needs kids,” Carter said. “I also have developed an interest in broadcasting and ESPN-type stuff.”
For now Carter will spend her summer handling the psychological and physical challenges of rehab.
“I definitely just have to have faith,” Carter said. “I think my faith in God has helped me the most. I have to know he has a plan. And just lean on my family and close friends and teammates and coaches for support.
“I know I can’t get through it by myself. Being a Lady Vol helps because they are so supportive. I have been blessed with great people in my life so I have to thank God for them and lean on him whenever I need to to help me get through it.
“I just know that I can do it. It could be way worse. Some people don’t even get a chance to play basketball. I just have to stay positive and know that I can get through this. It is not even close to the end. People come back from ACL injuries all the time, and I have no doubt that I will be back.”