Kamiko Williams, a rising junior who averaged 6.8 points and 3.2 rebounds last season in 17.9 minutes per game, was expected to be a key contributor again this season as the backup point guard who can also play off the ball. Williams, along with the now-departed Lauren Avant, a freshman from Memphis who left Tennessee to focus on academics at a smaller school, were also two of the Lady Vols’ better on-ball defenders.
The loss of Williams combined with the exit of Avant now looms large for Tennessee, as it also means the point guard duties will fall on incoming freshman Ariel Massengale of Bolingbrook, Illinois. That was the original plan but the backup will now come by committee from senior Briana Bass, senior Shekinna Stricklen and sophomore Meighan Simmons.
“Ariel is definitely going to be important for us,” Pat Summitt said. “Stricklen may have to play there some. Meighan, definitely. I think Bree can definitely get us some minutes. There’s no doubt.
“I think we can do it by committee. We take it one day at a time. Kamiko will be in her rehab mode, and everybody else will have to step up and fill in the blanks.”
Summitt had hoped to keep Stricklen and Simmons off the ball next season, but the loss of Williams means both will have to stay ready to run the point at times.
Summitt talked to Jenny Moshak, the team’s chief of sports medicine, and learned last Friday that the injury likely was serious but the team needed to wait on the results of the MRI to be certain.
“I found out pretty early, because I talked to Jenny,” Summitt said. “They had to wait to get an MRI. We wanted to make sure. That was the telling of what was really going on.”
Summitt, who is out of town for the July evaluation period of recruits, said she talked to Williams soon after the injury and reassured her.
“I talked to her early on when I was out recruiting,” said Summitt, who has since left another message Monday with the announcement of the injury – Williams’ voicemail is now full – and sent an email. “We’ve been in touch. I sent her an email from Holly (Warlick) and me. We are on the road together and still are.”
The injury occurred at Christian Academy of Knoxville on July 7 when Williams drove the right baseline and started to leave her feet for a reverse layup. But she never got off the floor and instead fell to the court and clutched the back of her left knee.
The ever stoic Williams, who has no history of injury, never uttered a sound or even shed a tear. She instead limped quietly to the sideline and watched the rest of the game from the stage area of the sideline with ice bags on the knee while the league’s medical personnel tracked down the Lady Vols’ physician.
“Per our protocol, Kamiko will begin rehabilitation of her left knee immediately and we will schedule ACL reconstructive surgery accordingly,” Moshak said Monday in a news release from Tennessee.
Given the timing of the injury and length of the rehab process it seems likely that Williams will need a redshirt year this season.
Summitt, who was still out of town for recruiting reasons, said in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., that she understands that players can get hurt in the off-season playing basketball and she didn’t blame the summer league.
Tennessee has had players injured in the summer in the past. Alicia Manning severely sprained an ankle working Summitt’s camp last summer and needed stitches this summer after absorbing a hard foul to the head in the summer league. Candace Parker and Taber Spani both got hurt playing USA basketball – a knee for Parker in 2004 that cost the All-American her true freshman year and a foot for Spani in 2009 that hobbled her for half of the season and later needed surgery.
“The league is a good thing, and by no means do we want to stop or tell our players not to be a part of the league,” Summitt said. “That is an opportunity for them to really go out and play and compete. I think that is important for this team.”
Atlee Hammaker, the acting commissioner of the league and a former professional pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, was relieved to hear that Summitt didn’t blame the league and recognized that injuries can and do happen.
“Pat has been around a long time, and I think she understands the risks involved with playing,” Hammaker said. “It could have happened in a pickup game. League play there is some structure to it, and it still happened. Nobody pushed her. There was no contact. She didn’t come down on anybody. It is just one of those weird deals. I feel very sorry for Kamiko.
“There is just no guarantee, but anytime something happens like that you always wonder (if the Lady Vols would be pulled) so very grateful that she will allow her players to play in the Rocky Top League if they want to play.”
Stricklen used the league to test the new three-point line – and then some as she launched 22 to 30-footers – and Alyssia Brewer said the pace of actual play helped her gauge how well her Achilles tendon had healed after an off-season cleanup surgery last spring.
Summitt did manage to laugh when told that Stricklen was going to lobby to loft 30 footers in a Lady Vol game.
“Let’s play some defense first,” Summitt said.
The loss of Williams will be noticeable on defense – she had improved there over two years and could stick with a ball handler. The Tennessee program, like many in women’s basketball, has been hit hard with ACL injuries, though this was the first one since Vicki Baugh’s second ACL tear in February of 2009, a run of nearly two-and-half years.
“It is just part of the game,” Summitt said. “Other people will need to step up. I think the training room will be beneficial for Miko and she’ll work hard there.”