The last nine weeks have been the payoff for Jessica Graham.
After four-plus years of an injury-riddled career at Idaho, Graham is as healthy as she’s been.
Her Vandals have found their groove after a 97-62 loss at Gonzaga dropped their record to 3-8 in late December. Since then, the Vandals are 9-6 and in third place in the Western Athletic Conference with three games to go.
Multiple injuries to her left knee never derailed Graham, who is averaging 6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 20 minutes per game.
“Playing college basketball was my dream and … all I wanted to do,” said the senior post from Ripon, Calif. “I wasn’t ready to give it up yet.”
Fate turned against Graham soon after she graduated from Modesto (Calif.) Christian High School, where she had transferred as a senior to be coached by Robb Spencer, her AAU coach since sixth grade.
During fall practice for the 2008-09 season at UI she tore her anterior cruciate ligament. She went through surgery and took a redshirt season.
The 2009-10 season had a more hopeful beginning, with Graham playing 13 games and starting five. Three days before UI’s first WAC game, she tore her ACL again and required a second surgery.
A third tear occurred during fall practice for the 2010-11 season. Graham opted to skip surgery and played in 22 games.
Last season, Graham tore the meniscus in the same knee and played through pain for 27 games. She had the third surgery of her UI career last April.
Although her parents questioned whether it was worth it to continue, and doctors said she might need a knee replacement someday, Graham wanted one last shot. She takes a daily ibuprofen to combat arthritis, but the physical pain wasn’t her concern.
“Having surgery, the biggest thing to overcome is the mental part of getting hurt again,” she said. “But when I play, I don’t think about what could happen to me.”
One positive of the extra time at UI is that Graham has already earned an English major and a minor in communications. She will graduate in May with a master’s in adult organizational learning. She’d like to teach English at a community college.
“My time is almost done,” Graham said. “It’s kind of bittersweet, and I’m sad that basketball won’t be a part of my life anymore. My body’s pretty happy, but I’m sad about it.”
Tough challenge: Washington State will complete its Pac-12 Conference season with home games against sixth-ranked California on Thursday and fourth- ranked Stanford on Saturday.
The Cougars (10-17, 6-10) will compete at the conference tournament next week in Seattle. WSU advanced to the tourney semifinals last year.
Postseason berths: Northwest Conference tournament champion Whitworth (21-6) will open the NCAA Division III tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Atlanta against host Emory (22-3). The teams have never met. The winner will face Ferrum (Va.) or Huntingdon (Ala.) Saturday.
North Idaho will host the single-elimination Region 18 tournament, which begins Thursday. The second-seeded Cardinals (27-3) have a bye into Friday’s semifinals. They’ll play at noon against Thursday’s winner between No. 3 Salt Lake (18-10) and No. 6 Colorado Northwestern (14-16). The region champion advances to the NJCAA tournament, March 18-23 at Salinas, Kan.
Community Colleges of Spokane (15-11), the East Region’s No. 4 seed, will meet South No. 1 Clackamas (23-4) at 8 p.m. Saturday to open the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges tournament at Kennewick.
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