Heading into her second season at Duke, redshirt freshman Amber Henson has only played a total of 93 minutes in a Blue Devil uniform.
After contributing early last year off the bench, she injured her patella and underwent season-ending surgery in January. Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie wasted no time in submitting a petition to the NCAA for a medical redshirt to save Henson a year of eligibility.
“I’m just so grateful that we were able to catch it early,” Henson said. “I played seven or eight games at the beginning of the season, and I think if I had of played one more or something I wouldn’t have been eligible for the redshirt. So I’m glad we caught it before that. I’m just glad to have another year here.”
Henson will start the 2012-13 campaign still recovering from her surgery, but should be back in action in late December or early January. For the Blue Devils, Henson may be the perfect Christmas present, especially considering the myriad injuries plaguing several of McCallie’s other standout players.
Returning center Elizabeth Williams, a preseason Player of the Year candidate, is still suffering from a lingering stress fracture in her right leg that has plagued her for over seven months. Incoming freshman forward Katie Heckman has a torn ACL and will most likely be redshirted this season.
But after having another surgery two months ago to remove scar tissue, Henson’s timetable for return is still unclear.
“No timelines, just day by day,” McCallie said. “But it won’t be November, although she is growing, getting better, and her knee is healing.”
When Henson does return, though, she has the potential to make a large impact on the court for the Blue Devils.
“She’ll rebound, she’ll defend and she’s got an attitude,” McCallie said. “She’s one tough lady. She plays hard—very blue collar, very tough. She’ll help us in all those ways. Plus she can shoot it lights out.”
Henson was a three-time Parade All-American nominee and was named the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school. She was tabbed as the fifth best player in her recruiting class by the Collegiate Girls Basketball Report. She also competed in the Women’s Youth Olympic Games in 2010 in Singapore, where she helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal.
“We ended up getting a bronze which is subpar for any U.S. Women’s Team,” Henson said. “But I think I learned about intangibles like leadership and teamwork and things like that— things that [also] come into play here.”
Along with the skills she learned while competing for the United States, McCallie believes that Henson has handled the adversity of injury well. The Blue Devils’ coach, though, will still have to wait a couple months to see her talented forward back in action.
“I want to have her back, but I can’t even think about it right now because it’s not for a while,” McCallie said. “She is terrific, and I’m so glad we redshirted her last year. With things going our way she’ll get some great experience this year and then have three fantastic years left to play.”
Until then, the Blue Devils will start their season with uncertainty in the post. Despite the injuries to some of her key players, though, McCallie is focused on the positives rather than the large holes in her lineup.
“That’s not what sports are about,” McCallie said. “You can’t lament—you have to go forward. It’s a great life lesson for the players and for all of us. Life throws you some curveballs, and you better focus on the ball and hit it anyway. I think we’re doing that.”