Georgia women’s basketball player Krista Donald once thought she could count on her knees for success in her future.
AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Georgia guard/forward Krista Donald (15) walks onto the court before an NCAA women's basketball game between Georgia and Tennessee in Athens, Ga., Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.
That was before she discovered a serious tear in her left knee during her first season at Georgia.
The junior burst into a fit of laughter when told recently that her knee has often been referred to as being held together by duct tape.
That Donald could laugh about it shows how far she’s come and how much her future goals have changed.
Donald approaches her senior year, something that knee injury made seem impossible. She starts at forward for the eighth-seeded Lady Bulldogs, who are preparing for today’s NCAA tournament game against No. 9 St. Joseph’s in Storrs, Conn.
Donald, who had a game-high 13 rebounds in Georgia’s quarterfinal loss to South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference tournament, averages 29.9 minutes per game this season.
“Before the year started, I would have been tickled to death if someone said, ‘You’re going to get Krista Donald every game for about 12 to 14 minutes,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said.
Every day before practice, Donald follows a strict schedule: drink water, dress out, lace up and visit the trainer. Shannon Dolezal, the team’s trainer, treats Donald’s left knee with ice, then heat and finally wraps it for practice. The extensive treatment isn’t enough to eliminate the sharp pain, Donald said, but it helps her at least get through practice until the next day when she has to do it all over again.
“I’ve never seen Krista down about her knee,” Georgia junior guard Erika Ford said. “She never complains about it. If it hurts, she may say it hurts, but it’s never stopped her from doing what she wants to do.”
During Donald’s senior year of high school in Lake, Miss., she tripped over a teammate’s leg while making a fast break to the basket. From then on, her knee would swell after she played for at least 20 minutes.
However, it didn’t occurred to Donald that the swelling meant something more than what her high school trainer described as bursa sacs that had ruptured in her knee. An MRI during Donald’s first season as a Lady Bulldog showed the actual damage. Donald has an almost fully torn, PCL in her left knee.
Her options were limited. She could either continue to play and risk even more damage, or stop and save what was left of her knee. For Donald, sitting out was not an option.
“We have to think of another way,” she told Landers and Dolezal.
For her first two seasons at Georgia, Donald’s knee was monitored on a daily basis — from the sidelines. She did not play her first two seasons, partly because of her knee, and partly because of her academic ineligibility.
Academics was never a priority to Donald. She wanted one thing — to play basketball in college, not realizing that it was the grades too that would allow her to do that.
Studying seemed like a foreign practice to Donald when she first came to Georgia. But when she realized it was her grades more than her injury that prevented her from playing, it did not take much to change her attitude.
“I called my mom, boohooing, telling her I had messed up to the point where I was basically about to be sent home,” Donald said. “That was the turning point for me.”
Landers had his own approach to change Donald’s attitude.
“I said, ‘Don’t play, go away.’ I mean literally I said, ‘Go away and I’ll let you know when I want to see you again and it’s not going to be until you get your grades right,’” Landers said he told Donald.
Landers said he did not have to mention grades to Donald again.
For basketball, Donald continued to practice, learning the difficulty of stopping when her body told her to.
“I just had to learn how to do what I could do to the extent that I was able to do it,” Donald said.
But that restriction hindered her and not just physically.
“It was hard because there would be times where I just wanted to go, go, go but I knew I was restricted and limited,” Donald said.
Last summer gave Donald a little hope with an arthroscopic procedure that the doctor said, “would clean out the debris that has built up in her knee and ultimately reduce the swelling,” said Dolezal. After the surgery and for the rest of the summer, Donald went through extensive rehabilitation. Donald said she would not be able to play the minutes she does today without that procedure.
The surgery alone isn’t responsible for Donald’s increased minutes this season (she averaged 11.3 minutes per game last season). It isn’t hard to see the determination Donald has for the game. She went from an average of 3.9 points her first season to 8.6 this season, and an average of 2.9 rebounds per game to 6.9.
Donald finds inspiration in former Georgia player Camille Lowe, a four-year starter from 1989-93. During Lowe’s sophomore year, she averaged a team best of 15.1 points per game, made a school record of 48.6 percent of her 3-point attempts and led Georgia to the 1991 SEC title. Lowe accomplished all this, coincidentally, with a partial tear of her PCL in her left knee.
“She played tremendous minutes but never practiced. That was just such an inspiration for me,” Donald said.
Donald has carried her go-getter attitude into her academics.
“Of course I want to keep playing, but I know my body is not going to be able to handle the next level after college,” Donald said.
Majoring in criminal justice, Donald hopes to become a forensic pathologist. She even mentioned going to medical school at one point. Donald has big dreams, and even though basketball may not be one of them anymore, she isn’t going to let that keep her down.
Donald’s knee has been described as being held together by duct tape. But Dolezal says otherwise.
“Her will is what holds her knee together,” Dolezal said.
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.