Draya Carter right on track

Draya Carter

Two months after ACL surgery, Draya Carter has shed her crutches, is right on schedule in her rehab and still has hopes to play high school basketball in her senior year before reporting to Knoxville to join the Tennessee Lady Vols.

In a phone interview this week from her hometown of Flowery Branch, Ga., the 5'9 guard said the process after the June 6 surgery to repair her left knee has taught her some life lessons.

"I have definitely learned patience, appreciation, how important it is to have good people around you and how important support is," said Andraya Carter, who prefers the first-name moniker of Draya. "I couldn't imagine going through this alone.

"And then also to keep going. A setback doesn't mean it's over. You have to keep going. Anything can happen. I used to dive all over the floor. That is the way I played and then I tore my ACL just running. You never know what can happen, but you just have to keep moving forward and keep going."

Carter started the rehab process immediately after her surgery and the reports have been promising for a full recovery.

"My physical therapist says that I am right on track in where I need to be," said Carter, whose therapist has handled several cases of athletes returning from ACL surgeries. "He says that I am doing really well. I am walking and in about one-and-a-half weeks we're going to start jogging.

"He said we're trying to just get as much quad strength as possible before the 12th week so that when I do start jogging it will (minimize any cartilage issues). We're getting past the point where the ACL is at its weakest, so it will only start getting stronger from here. We're building quad strength.

"I am doing my cardio in the pool because I can't jog yet. I do a lot of stationary ball handling and form shooting. I am not jumping or anything like that yet. It will be nice once I can do that and once I can jog. It will only keep going up from here. I am definitely in the weight room going very hard there, so that when I do come back I will be stronger than I was before completely with my whole body."

Carter wears a brace for now as a precaution when working out and when she's in a crowd in case she gets jostled and knocked off balance. Otherwise, her knee feels secure.

"I am walking fine, and it's coming along well," Carter said. "My quad muscles, there is still about an inch difference between the two, but we're working to get that back. I can do all different kinds of the lifts to get it stronger."

Carter injured the knee in May while sprinting back on defense during pickup play at her school and lunging for a pass to get the steal. She initially thought the injury was not too serious, but diagnostic tests revealed the tear to the anterior cruciate ligament.

The physical return is scripted for knee patients, but athletes also must make a mental adjustment to the injury and rehab and having their sport put on hold.

"It's tough sometimes like when I get on the court and just knowing there is only so much you can do, and having to retrain everything," Carter said. "I just have to keep my faith and I have a ton of support – my closest friends, my family, my coaches, even the football players in the training room.

"I have so much support to keep going. Before I was training hard with basketball stuff and I just try and think of it like this is taking the place of basketball right now. This is like my practicing. This is like my getting better, because that is what I have to do."

Since the surgery Carter's summer consisted of rehab sessions and more down time than she has ever wanted. She read, watched television and even found solace in an activity she had not done since early childhood – coloring.

"Down time was hard because I like to be able to go out and do stuff," Carter said. "When I wasn't able to walk, when I wasn't in rehab, I had some exercises I could do (at home) like leg raises. I did a lot of reading. I did a lot of coloring actually. I read my Bible.

"I tried to stay strong. It was hard, and it definitely got frustrating. I had my moments of complaining, but I just had to keep going. I had people around me to keep me straight."

With classes now resumed at Buford High School, Carter's days are a lot busier, a change she welcomed. Her goal now is to take the court at some point during her senior year with her teammates, which include Kaela Davis, a 6'2 forward from Norcross, Ga., in the class of 2013 who has already committed to Tennessee.

Another teammate at Buford will be Kristina Nelson, a 6'3 forward also in the class of 2013 who is being recruited by Tennessee. Nelson, whose nickname is Koko, played last season at Greater Atlanta Christian School and will suit up this year for Buford.

"She likes it so far, and it's fun," Carter said. "Obviously Kaela and I are going to Tennessee, and we love it there, but we don't really press anything on her. She'll tell us a couple of things, like who she is talking to or if she went to a camp or something, but we don't really push anything.

"She's our friend, so she's our friend first, so whatever she feels is best for her that is what we would want whether it's Tennessee or another place."

Tennessee's coaches could make contact with Carter at times over the summer as allowed by NCAA rules, and Carter also initiated contact as she is permitted to do at anytime. She spoke with all the coaches at some point over the summer.

"I talked to them about everything, how the summer was going," said Carter, who can sign her LOI with the Lady Vols in November. "I will take my official (visit). I am not going to take any officials anywhere else."

Carter, whose official visit is tentatively scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 8, also is a frequent visitor to Knoxville with Davis, as both make the drive with Davis' father, former NBA forward Antonio Davis, to see Lady Vol basketball games.

"I will be up there as much as possible in the fall on unofficial visits just to hang out and go to football games and just spend time with the team," Carter said. "I usually ride up there with them."

Carter has already established friendships with several Lady Vol players – their paths often cross in AAU circles and they stay in contact via social media – and she sent a message to rising junior guard Kamiko Williams, who tore her ACL in July while playing summer league basketball.

"I texted Kamiko, of course," Carter said. "I told her, ‘I am just going to tell you what you told me because she sent me a text when I tore mine. I reiterated what she said to me. I told her she could do it, and she will be back on the court. Tearing your ACL is not the end by any means.

"I talked to Ariel (Massengale, a freshman who just arrived on campus). They are still supportive. It is almost like I'm there but I'm not. I have known Cierra (Burdick, another freshman) since eighth grade. I met Ariel at USA Basketball two years ago, and I get along with them great. I have a lot of respect for the other players."

Carter and Davis, who will arrive at Tennessee one year after Carter, are close friends and have led Buford to Class AA state titles in addition to teaming up in the past on the AAU team, Georgia Ice. Carter has leaned on Davis while rehabbing.

"She is my best friend, so she's been extremely supportive just like you would expect," Carter said. "We are really close so she's seen me when I'm down. She is just there for me like you would expect one of your closest friends to be there for you. She is there even if I am venting or of if I need someone to bounce ideas off of. Anything.

"She is always just listening, probably even if she doesn't want to, she still is. We are really close, and she is there for me and a reason to keep going and get back on the court. I want to play with her my senior year, be out there with her before I leave. That is my best friend."

Davis will be a junior this season while Carter will graduate next spring and get ready to start her collegiate basketball career. If her progress is such that Carter is cleared to play basketball, she wants to take the court for Buford this season.

"I have talked to my trainers and I have talked to my physical therapist and he said at this point I have to go above and beyond the strength that I had before I hurt it, so that it doesn't happen again," Carter said. "He said there are different tests and until I pass the tests and until I am moving well, obviously I am not going to step out there and risk my future.

"I do hope to play this senior year because I love my high school team and my teammates, and we're going to have a good year. Coming back early would be considered December, but that's still a good seven months recovery. But a logical timeline might be January for me to come back. But if they don't feel comfortable putting me back on the floor there could be a chance I don't play my senior season.

"I would like to be back in December, of course, because we are going to the Tournament of Champions. January would be reasonable. And there is that chance that I won't be able to play. I want to play, but we are going to be smart about it, whatever is best for my future.

"But I will still be with my team 100 percent as they go through the season whether I am on the court or not. I will be right there with them."

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