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Healthy Bales overcoming college adjustment

It's hard enough for any average student to adjust to college life. But add a knee injury that requires about a year of recovery along with the pressures associated with being one half of the best women's basketball recruiting class in the nation, and you've got the situation Alison Bales faced when she arrived on campus this summer.

Coming out of high school as a Parade, McDonald's and WBCA All-American, it was a logical next step for Bales to join one of the best collegiate basketball programs in the country. However, the transition both on and off the court has not been as easy as Bales' decision to play for the team she followed from her Dayton, Ohio home.

"It was just really hard [with] the whole transition to college and then having an injury," Bales said. "It was pretty frustrating."

"Frustrating" is certainly an abridged description of the medical situation that has plagued Bales since November of her senior year in high school. Although her initial torn meniscus only left her out for a couple days, she re-injured it later that season during Ohio's district tournament. When her meniscus popped out of place for a third time, she had an MRI taken of her knee. Bales' mother, a trauma surgeon, had the MRI results sent down to Duke, and in May, Bales headed down to her future school to have surgery on her knee.

"I came down here for the summer and did a lot of rehab," Bales said. "I worked really hard and tore it again in the preseason."

Finally, Bales had her meniscus removed in September, a procedure that requires a month to recover. The day before this season's first practice, Bales was finally ready to play with her team, but she soon started having swelling problems that required her knee to be drained.

However, her Blue Devil teammates, who are one of the reasons Bales chose Duke over Oklahoma, Maryland, Notre Dame and Ohio State, have supported her every step of the way. Caitlin Howe, who has suffered three torn ACL's in as many seasons, served as a mentor for Bales during her knee injuries.

"She definitely knows what it is like to go through that," Bales said. "She helped me a lot staying positive."

The team has also helped Bales to overcome her self-described shyness both on and off the court. From getting lost riding bikes around Central Campus with fellow freshman Brittany Hunter during summer school to having barbecues at Vicki Krapohl's off-campus apartment, the team unity has spurred "lots of inside jokes" in addition to giving Bales more confidence at Duke.

In comparison to other schools, Bales found the team to be really supportive at Duke.

"I think if you play with the best, then you'll do well," Bales said.

Despite being the tallest female player in the ACC at 6-foot-7, Bales started this season apprehensively on the court. However, with a healthy knee, more minutes than earlier in the season and her team's support, Bales has started to make the impact of an All-American high school player.

"Ally has played some awesome games," Alana Beard said. "She is becoming more aggressive. That's where it all starts. I'm very proud of her, and I think she is going to continue to give a solid contribution."

Now with her knee feeling "really good," Bales is set to make a strong impact in the ACC tournament, with fellow freshman Hunter.

"I consider them x-factors because I don't think the league has really seen how good they are going to be yet," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I'm excited about seeing how they progress and how they play in the tournament."

According to Bales, the league tournament is just the beginning for the team that she called the "most talented in the nation."

"I just don't want to jinx us," she added quietly with a laugh.

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