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Former Lady Bear overcomes double-knee surgery
Mar 08, 2013 4:30 pm
Miller to finish college career this weekend
By Andy Reed
Heather Miller kept the orthopedic surgeons busy in 2011. Two knee surgeries kept her off the court for a calendar year and a basketball season.
But the former Mt. Juliet High player made the decision long before tearing her right ACL the first time she wasn't going to quit, and now she will end her playing career this weekend on her terms.
Miller graduated from Mt. Juliet in 2008 and played two seasons at Vol State Community College. After transferring to Trevecca Nazarene University in 2010, the 6-foot post played 13 games for the Lady Trojans before blowing out her right knee.
She underwent surgery and rehabilitated the knee, getting it stronger than it was before. Cleared to return to the court, she returned to play in an open gym in the summer of 2011 and, in just her third or fourth day back, suffered a partial re-tear of the same knee.
"It was going to be my senior year and I decided I was going to play on it," Miller said this week.
She was back by the start of school a month later, only to suffer a complete re-tear on her first day back.
"We decided to have surgery and I wasn't going to try to play on it again [that year]," said Miller, who redshirted the 2011-12 season.
She came back as a fifth-year senior to start 17 of 26 games, averaging just over 15 minutes per night with 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game as Trevecca won the inaugural regular season championship in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference with a 19-7 record going into tonight's GMAC tournament game against Central State at the Lady Trojans' Moore Gym in Nashville.
Miller is one of five Wilson County girls on the roster of coach Gary Van Atta, himself a Mt. Juliet High grad. She's not even the only one who's had to battle back from a severe injury.
Britt Bell, a second-generation Trevecca athlete, had her cartilage replaced as a true freshman two years ago. Now a redshirt sophomore, the 5-7 forward has started 20 of 26 games, averaging 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. She leads the Trojans with 59 steals and has blocked 13 shots. She has also hit 24 three-pointers, second on the team.
"We had two weird things happen to two Mt. Juliet girls," Van Atta said.
Another Wilson County player, senior guard Lauren Wasson of Wilson Central, broke her nose in practice but was scheduled to play in the tournament.
"We're waiting for Lauren's mask to come in so she can play Friday night," Van Atta said Wednesday.
Wasson has started 19 of 26 games, averaging 5.5 points in 18.1 minutes per game. Her 66 assists rank second on the team.
Joining that trio from Mt. Juliet this season are freshman guards Helen Mitchner and Paige Baugher, who combined have missed just one game though have started none.
One of the amazing stats about this team is the leading scorer, Christina Curtner, averages just 9.8 points.
"I've coached a long time and...it's probably the most unselfish team I've ever coached," said Van Atta, who has coached everywhere from starting girls' basketball at the old Castle Heights Military Academy in the 1970s to winning a state championship in '97 at Gallatin to coaching Division I at UT-Martin. He even coached a season of boys' hoops at Mt. Juliet before beginning his current eight-year stint at Trevecca, where he is the school's career winner with 172 victories [against 83 losses] and has 572 wins at all levels.
"I've got 11 or 12 players averaging double-digit minutes," he said. "We've had four players named conference Player of the Week, and two don't even start.
"That's what I love about it, it's somebody different every night. Other teams don't know who to prepare for. It drives me crazy, too, because I don't know who it's going to come from, but I know it's coming."
"We have really good chemistry and it builds on to the whole team," Miller said. "I never got to play with [Mitchner and Baugher at Mt. Juliet], but we still have that chemistry."
This is the second wave of players Van Atta has had from Wilson County. His 2007 NAIA national runner-up team featured Casey Pigue, Christian Gibson, Paige McFarlin and his daughter K.C., all in the rotation for Mt. Juliet during the Lady Bears' 2005 state championship season. Add in Lebanon's London Elie, who now plays for Cumberland, and 10 Wilson countians have played for Van Atta, who was the first to go through the pipeline to Trevecca in 1977 following a two-year layover at Vol State.
One of the early players to follow Van Atta in the Mt. Juliet-to-Trevecca pipeline was Tim Bell, Britt's father, who played basketball and baseball for the Trojans and is now principal at Mt. Juliet Middle School.
Win or lose, Trevecca's season will end this weekend. As a probationary member in the second of a three-year transition from the NAIA to NCAA, the Lady Trojans are ineligible for the NCAA Division II tournament. Miller has no regrets about undergoing the countless hours of rehab to return to the court.
"I love this sport so much," MIller said. "I would never give it up [even] if I could."
"Anytime someone goes through double-knee surgery, it's an inspiration," Van Atta said.
The idea of quitting was knocked out of her almost a decade ago by Mt. Juliet Middle coach Rick Johnson.
"I wanted to quit basketball my eighth-grade year, but [Johnson] tole me how much potential I had and not to give up.
"I wouldn't be playing basketball if he didn't give me a second chance, because I was walking out that door."
She might remain with the game even after she's finished playing, thanks to an offer from her high school coach.
"Coach [Chris] Fryer offered me to go help him next year," she said. "If I don't get a grad assistant's position which would pay for my master's, then I would just help coach Fryer and I would pay for my master's."