In March, Brianna McDaniel suffered the worst injury of her basketball career.
While playing in a game for Kenwood High School, Texas A&M commit Brianna McDaniel was trying to get to the rim. As she planted her foot to go up, she slipped. Her knee buckled and she crumbled to the floor.
“At the time when the injury happened while we were in the gym, she was still trying to kinda be okay, but in her head, she was saying that she knew she tore it,” Shamona McDaniel, Brianna’s mother, said. “And once she got the news that it was actually torn from the doctor, we had a really big cry fest.”
Brianna McDaniel tore her ACL and partially tore her meniscus, which has still kept her sidelined now seven months later.
She isn’t projected to play again until December, meaning it will be nine long months between competitive play for her. It’s been a tough go, physically and mentally, for the player and her family.
This is Brianna McDaniel’s first serious injury. In the past, she’s experienced ankle sprains and other small setbacks that restricted her slightly and didn’t last too long. But this has been completely different.
“Before, I would be able to still shoot and stuff like that, probably a little bit of running here or there, but I can’t really do anything now,” she explained. “It’s frustrating, because I can’t get my stress out if I want to.”
The road to recovery has been loaded with stress. When the injury happened, Brianna McDaniel was not yet committed to Texas A&M, and some of her initial fears centered around losing offers she’d earned previously. That didn’t end up happening, but even with that reassurance, not having her normal basketball outlet has been difficult. That was especially true in the early days of her rehab.
“I wasn’t really seeing any progress,” Brianna McDaniel said. “I was depressed with that.”
But in July, she joined up again with her AAU team, Chicago Hoops Express, and got a piece of the thrill back by taking up a spot on the sideline.
“We were on the road with Hoops Express, so she was on the bench and acting like Coach Bri, talking to her teammates,” Shamona McDaniel said. “I think once we started doing that, we saw her personality come back. She was really down at the beginning, but once we were back in the gym and she was interacting with her teammates again, we saw her wheels spinning and be more like herself.”
But Brianna McDaniel can’t be around her teammates nonstop. To help fill those gaps, she’s been spending even more time watching film of herself. Seeing footage of herself driving to the hoop, nailing jumpers, and locking down opponents defensively has been a huge boost to her mental health.
“It made me really realize the precious moments about playing, just trying to remember what I was and what I can be when I get back,” the player explained. “I wanted to look at myself and be a little bit happier, because I know I was really down about everything. But watching myself, it made me laugh and smile about how I was playing. It made me feel like I was back on the court.”
It’s been emotional for her family, too. Shamona McDaniel said she’s had to learn how to both help her daughter handle the mental toll the situation has taken on her while also pushing her to continue physically doing something about it.
“When we first started off, she was eager to get into rehab, and then I saw the frustration of not seeing a whole lot of progress as quick as she liked. I saw that frustration in her face, and I could tell in her demeanor that she was really down on herself,” Shamona McDaniel said. “It’s been really hard, because I have to be the one to push her through her rehab exercises at home, but then also I have to give her the moment to breathe, be frustrated, or be that shoulder to cry on. Then I have to turn around and crack the whip, so to speak, like ‘Okay, we cried, we’re frustrated, but what are we gonna do?’”
Brianna McDaniel has also leaned on her sister, Shadrian, and cousin, Keenan Jones, who was also going through a significant injury at the same time, to help handle the stress and anguish.
“(Keenan) has been through a lot of stuff, so he understood what I was going through and how down I was,” Brianna McDaniel said. “If I needed someone to sit on the phone with me and cry, he just sat there, and then after I finished, he talked to me made sure I was okay. And my sister was the same way. She talked to me about everything I needed to do, how my feelings were valid, and how I just need to keep on pushing myself to be the best person I can be.”
Slowly but surely, the rehab became more positive, and now Brianna McDaniel is shooting and able to move around some. She’s still several weeks away from being fully healthy, but a return to some normalcy and a light beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel have made a massive difference in her outlook.
“It’s been pretty much an emotional roller coaster for the majority of this rehab,” Shamona McDaniel explained. “But once she was able to be back around the girls, be in the gym, start touching the ball and work on her shooting touch by the basket again, things like that, I was starting to see Bri again.”