Williams vows to return to court stronger than ever in 2006-07
Coming back from major knee surgery is a difficult and uncertain process that requires the injured person to have unshakeable resolve to return better than ever in a given sport. For freshman forward Earnesia Williams, who disappointedly tore her right knee anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on December 4 while driving the baseline in the Duke game, undergoing the intensive rehab required in the months to come is a road she has traveled before.
During her freshman year at Sapulpa High School in Oklahoma, Williams tore the ACL in her left knee, but with hard work managed to overcome the injury and return to the court and became a consensus All-America standout and the 2004-05 Oklahoma Gatorade High School Player of the Year.
It is that past experience in dealing with this type of rigorous rehab and commitment that has given Williams confidence about her expected return to basketball next season.
“The first time it happened, it was a lot of work and I didn’t quite understand how hard it would be. I spent six months away from the sport I loved - that was a long time to not be able to play basketball,” said Williams, who is nicknamed “Earnie”. “Getting back on the court will come naturally, and I’ll be ready to do that in the summer. I’ve been though the rehab process before, so I know I can do it again.”
Though Williams’ UT freshman season was brief, she has many positives to take from it as she works toward her sophomore year. The 6-1 forward appeared in six games, averaging 5.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and one steal per game.
“What I’ll take from this season is that I was just starting to feel comfortable, and I was able to help the team while bringing some energy and intensity,” Williams said. “Even though I won’t be playing anymore this year, I will still learn a lot from watching my teammates and listening to the coaches.”
One of the biggest motivating factor Williams will take with her once she begins her rehab after surgery is the fact that she was making her first collegiate start against Duke. In only 14 minutes of action against the No. 1-ranked Blue Devils, Williams scored a season-high 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, pulled down three rebounds, and collected two steals. That game will serve as huge confidence-builder for Earnesia as she works to don the burnt orange again next season.
“I was a little nervous at first, going up against the number-one team on national TV, but once the game started, I got comfortable and I was anxious to prove that I can play as a freshman,” Williams said. “Since that was my first taste of a highly-competitive college game, it will be a fire that drives my rehab. I’m going to be very eager to get back at it next year.”
The words of encouragement and “keep your head up” conversations have come from teammates, coaches and especially from her mother, Kammie Holmes, herself a former standout at NAIA power Fort Hays State University in Kansas, where she helping Fort Hays win the 1991 NAIA national championship. Earnie’s mom got her dribbling and shooting basketballs at just two years of age.
“Everyone is just telling me to keep my spirits up and that everything happens for a reason,” Williams said. “My mother has been reminding me that I’ve done it before, and I need to be ready to hit the rehab hard after my surgery.”
Texas Head Coach Jody Conradt knows Williams’ passion for the game is what will help her return to the court and be a force for the Longhorns next year.
“Earnie Williams was a big part of our plans for this season, and her loss to the team is disappointing and very difficult for all of us,” Conradt said. “I know Earnie’s will and drive. She has the commitment and focus to do her very best to get healthy and back on the court in order to resume her career next season. That is all you can ask for from a competitor.”
Williams will have a “double duty” of rehab in the upcoming months, as this past August she also underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left knee – the one she had injured as a high school freshman – to clean up some nagging reminders of that injury. The time off will give her the opportunity to have both knees strong for the 2006-07 season.
“The down time will give my other knee its chance to heal so that I can come back even stronger next year,” Williams said. “Obviously, I’d rather not be hurt right now, but the time off will help both of my legs get back to 100 percent.”
With the memories of her short playing time in the Longhorn uniform still fresh in her mind, Williams will take those with her as she strives to rejoin her teammates next fall.
“I just have to keep it in the back of my mind what I’m working toward,” Williams said. “I just want to get back on the court as soon as possible and I’ll keep working toward achieving that goal every day. We have a chance to be a really special program, and I really want to be a part of that.”