Two ACL tears can't stop Sidney

Jelleah Sidney bounced back from two major knee injuries. Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com

Her cousin got one. So did her older sister and one of her BFFs. Then her teammate. So many were being stricken, it seemed like they were passing around a virus.

"So many people I knew were tearing their ACLs at the same time," Jelleah Sidney said. "It was crazy."

So when Sidney suffered hers, during the summer before her freshman year at St. Michael Academy in New York, it almost seemed like it was just her time. She knew almost immediately what had happened because her cousin, Rodney Robinson, had just suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) and described it. He happened to be in the stands that day, and reinforced her worst fears.

It didn't seem like the end of the world because Sidney saw others bounce back. Her older sister, Elon, on basketball scholarship at St. John's, was one. It was only natural that the 6-foot-2 forward eventually would follow in her footsteps, doing so this weekend when she pledged to Syracuse, where five former teammates, at either St. Michael or her club team, Exodus, already play.

Only Jelleah Sidney increased the degree of difficulty, suffering a tear in her right knee about a year after doing it in her left.

"It makes you a stronger person," Sidney said of the injuries. "I don't take anything for granted. One day it could be all over, so I work hard every day to be the best I can be."

The first time it happened, Sidney was playing a club team, the Silver Bullets from Long Island, for the second time in days. The first time, she was playing for Exodus, the team coached by her high-school coach, Apache Paschall, and lost by a point. The second time, playing for a team called Xplosion, she felt in control and went to trap a ballhandler when her coach called her back. She half-turned to look at him while planting her knee, and it buckled.

The second time, Sidney readily admits she should have known better. She watching friends play pick-up ball in a local park. They invited her to play; she happened to have her gear in the car. She didn't stretch. So when she was trying to execute an in-and-out move, the other knee buckled.

"I knew," Sidney said, remembering her resignation at the time.

Knowing helps, she says. The second rehabilitation was easier than the first. Sidney rattles off facts about the muscle groups, hamstrings and quadriceps, that support the knee. She has become almost a walking encyclopedia on the subject of ACL tears.

Having suffered the two major injuries earlier in her high-school career gave Sidney time to recover, she believes. The most urgent recovery was psychological. It was only recently, she says, that she stopped flinching while going up for layups. She remembers how her cousin was undercut on the way to his ACL injury.

Otherwise, Sidney says, " I am stronger and more mature. And I have two brand-new ACLs.

"Some people get hurt and they don't recover. Their confidence goes down and their game changes. I have to admit, my confidence went down for a while, but it's definitely back. I was a hard worker before, and I'm still a hard worker. I'll always have that."

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.