Penn State's Julia Trogele actually can be light-hearted -- now, anyway -- when talking about the two ACL injuries she endured her first two years in high school.
"I had a little bell by me, which shows how spoiled I am," joked Trogele of her parents' devotion to taking care of her after the surgeries. "Anytime I needed my mom, she was right there.
"After the first one, I thought, 'I can get through this; I'm very young.' But after my second one, I said, 'I'm done with basketball. I'm picking another sport.' I was looking into tennis or golf, something non-contact.
"But I just missed basketball so much. My whole family is all basketball. It's the only sport I really love watching and playing and being involved in. So I had to get back to it."
Luckily for Penn State, she did that. And the last adjective coach Coquese Washington would use to describe Trogele, Penn State's lone senior this season, is "spoiled."
"Her strongest characteristic is that she is unselfish," Washington said. "We had a talk last spring after the season. She said, 'I don't need or want to be a star. I can play a different role.'
"She knows her value to the team. And don't misunderstand: We absolutely need Julia on the court for us; she does a little bit of everything. She's that glue that keeps us together."
Few players in Penn State women's hoops history have had "glue" ability more than Trogele has. She came into the program in the fall of 2007, as Washington started her first season as head coach.
Suffice to say, Penn State was ready for a fresh start. Longtime coach Rene Portland had retired in the spring of that year, after the program experienced turmoil in the wake of the Jen Harris lawsuit and other former players speaking about negative experiences they'd had with Portland.
Washington, the former Notre Dame and WNBA player, had been an assistant at her alma mater before moving to State College, Pa. She had a freshman class of three players that first season, all of whom had been recruited by Portland's staff but still came to Penn State under the new regime.
However, the only one still with the program is Trogele. Evelyn Lewis transferred to George Mason after the 2008-09 season, while Janessa Wolff married last spring and opted not to play in her final year of eligibility.
So Trogele, the only child of parents who played hoops internationally for Germany, is the senior spokeswoman for Penn State. It's a team led in scoring by one of the many freshmen sensations nationally this season, guard Maggie Lucas, who is coming off the bench but still averages 16.7 points per game.
"I've been amazed at her transition into college," Washington said of Lucas. "She hasn't been bothered one bit by the expectations."
Sophomore Alex Bentley (15.2) is the second-leading scorer. Junior Zhaque Gray (10.3) and sophomores Mia Nickson (10.0) and Nikki Greene (9.4) also have been big contributors.
Trogele is averaging 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds, but as Washington said, there isn't a true measurement for all that she has done for the program. Or maybe there is. Penn State was 13-18 in her first season, 11-18 in her second and 17-14 with a WNIT appearance last year.
Now Penn State is 20-5 overall, 9-2 in the Big Ten, and seems certain to get the program's first NCAA tournament bid since 2005. All of that is a testament to Trogele.
"Julia has a knack for understanding what plays to make and when," Washington said. "She gets some of our biggest rebounds. She just has a very high basketball IQ, and I know that's because of her parents and being around the game of basketball her whole life."
Penn State currently is atop the Big Ten, but Michigan State is right there, at 8-2. The Spartans travel to Penn State for a showdown Thursday.
"They're a very tough defensive team; they get after you and challenge you," Washington said. "It's going to be an interesting game. They're the top defensive team in the conference, and we're the highest-scoring team."
You can give credit to Washington's strategic ability -- she is a former point guard, after all -- for why Penn State leads the Big Ten in scoring by a considerable margin. But she won't take the credit. Instead, Washington said it's a product of having a lot of scoring options.
Maybe so, but there are several teams with multiple scoring threats that still don't match Penn State's average of 80.4 points per game. Washington likes an up-tempo style and thinks the program is getting closer to how she wants Penn State to always play.
"We're not all the way there yet," she said. "We're probably closer on the offensive end than the defensive end. But we returned a group of kids who had a good taste of what we wanted last year, and they're able to do it a little bit better this year.
"I want everybody on the floor to be a threat and understand where they can contribute. They're willing to share the ball. Most games we'll go through stretches where different players are taking over."
The only Penn State player who averages more than 30 minutes a game is Bentley, at 31.8. February is the month in which players' legs can feel the heaviest, but Penn State's relative freshness helped with two crucial road victories this past week: Thursday at Michigan and Sunday at Iowa. Those wins propelled Penn State into the rankings at No. 23 in the coaches' and media polls.
Penn State's nonconference losses were to Green Bay in a tournament in Mexico, in overtime at Boston College and at home to Drexel. Washington thought that latter defeat, on Dec. 21, was a particularly good lesson for her team about the need for consistent effort through the entire game.
In league play, Penn State fell at Wisconsin and Purdue but has won five in a row since that defeat in West Lafayette, Ind., on Jan. 20.
"That first Big Ten road game at Wisconsin, I knew how hard it was going to be, but I don't know if our younger players realized how hostile an environment that would be," said Trogele, who said she has benefited from encouraging Facebook chats with former Penn State star Kelly Mazzante, now playing in Europe.
"We've learned and grown. We don't have a lot of experience, but we're picking that up with every game. It's giving us more and more fuel to do better."
The lone senior
Trogele is a 6-foot-2 guard/forward who more naturally prefers the perimeter. With her size, though, she has been needed in the post in high school and college and has become comfortable there. She said that, as a player, she's sort of a mix of her parents.
"My dad was a great shooter, and I think my shot form is what he taught me," Trogele said. "My mom was a feisty player. People always say I have a little bit of that to me. My dad was more the finesse shooter; my mom more the pesky guard."
Her father, Bob, was born in Germany, came to the United States at 7 years old and played collegiately at Wichita State. Her mother, Uta, is also a native German who played college ball at Washington. Both competed for their respective German national teams. Julia was born in Berlin, Germany, in January 1989; the Berlin Wall fell later that year, with Germany reunifying in 1990.
Her father's job sent the family to Ireland when Julia was just a few months old, then back to Germany when she was 4 and to the United States when she was 11. She finished high school at Villa Maria Academy in the greater Philadelphia area.
Julia also has competed with the German national team and has dual citizenship. She sounds fully American, with a bit of a Jersey/Philly accent, but she's also fluent in German and emotionally tied to that country.
"As much as I've Americanized, I am German," she said. "I was born there, my parents were born there, my family is over there. But I'm also very thankful that my parents brought me here and gave me the opportunity to go to college and live in the United States."
And the way her final season at Penn State has gone thus far is definitely a point of pride.
"Everyone has worked really hard to bring this program back to what it was," she said. "I felt this year, I had a lot on my shoulders and I wanted to go out with having helped make a change here. It's been a great honor."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.