Hancock takes next step on comeback trail

BY GENE PHELPS
Daily Journal

Katie Hancock's days of playing ultimate Frisbee are over.

Alabama's freshman guard suffered a knee injury – torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus – one week before the start of basketball practice while enjoying a leisurely game with her teammates on the Crimson Tide's artificial turf football practice field.

Hancock, the Daily Journal's 2006 and 2007 Player of the Year from Tupelo High School, doesn't know how the injury happened. Her left knee just buckled.

“I thought somebody fell into the back of my leg and knocked me down,” she said. “Nobody was around me. I just planted and shifted my weight.”

The game, which was supposed to be a reward for the players following their offseason conditioning work, was no prize. Hancock underwent surgery the following week.

“I was heartbroken,” she said. “I'd worked so hard in the offseason to get in shape. The team was starting to bond. We were looking forward to getting on the court.”

Hancock, a hard-nosed competitor who walked on at Alabama so she could fulfill her dream of playing in the SEC, didn't back down on her rehabilitation trail.

“The rehab was extremely rigorous,” she said. “It was so torturous the first week. But what else can you do? You take it in stride and be optimistic.

“Now my knee's in a lot better shape; it's strong.”

Hancock earned a scholarship this past summer based on her good work on and off the basketball court.

“All the things I heard about her from a character standpoint were exceptional É her work ethic, how she handles herself academically,” Crimson Tide coach Stephany Smith said. “I thought anything she brought as a player, skill-wise, was icing on the cake.”

Hancock provided Smith layers of the sweet stuff.

“It was obvious early that she knew how to play the game,” Smith said. “She can score, handle the ball and is a good passer. She also thinks the game.”

Smith says it was a no-brainer to offer Hancock a scholarship.

“I looked at the other coaches and they all kind of smiled. We know we'd struck gold,” the coach said. “We got lucky when it came to Katie.”

Hancock made her college and SEC debut Sunday, 12 weeks after surgery, in Alabama's 62-48 loss to No. 25 Auburn at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.

She started against the Tigers and played 22 minutes. She scored six points, had two assists, one rebound and commited seven turnovers. Her first career field goal was a 3-pointer.

This week, starting tonight, Hancock returns to Mississippi for two games – today at Mississippi State and Sunday at Ole Miss.

“I'm so excited,” she said. “I can't wait. There's no better time to come back … playing in an SEC game, but especially against Ole Miss and Mississippi State.”

Hancock said sitting on the bench and not getting to practice or play was a lot tougher than her rehab. In the preseason, she was slated to play guard in the Lady Crimson Tide's triangle offense, which features three guards and two post players.

“I think I would have been in a good position to contribute to the team,” she said.

Smith agreed. “Katie was going to be a factor in the equation before she got hurt,” she said. “She will be now.”

That's why Hancock didn't mind forgoing a medical redshirt season to play in the team's final 10 regular season games.

“They encouraged me and said it wouldn't be a waste for me to come back,” she said. “After all I've gone through, I think it will be well worth coming back for the 10 biggest games of the season.”

So, no Frisbee, but plenty of basketball ahead.