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Friday, March 28
Updated: April 2, 12:05 AM ET
Carey turns into missing piece at Texas

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to

In a "can't write/can't sleep'' moment the other night, I flipped on the TV and came across "Stella Dallas,'' a 1930s weepie, in its corny last 20 minutes.

Jamie Carey
Texas' Jamie Carey averages 10.6 points and 3.6 assists, and has hit 52 3-pointers this season.
It's one of those movies where a woman makes some ludicrously unnecessary self-sacrifice to show what a good mother, wife, daughter or sister she is. They always end with the woman going out in a blazing glory of lonely nobility to a crescendoing soundtrack.

Like Bette Davis not telling her husband the brain tumor was really kicking in at the end of "Dark Victory.'' (Isn't he going to be a little mad when he comes back and she's dead?)

Or Stella Dallas (Barbara Stanwyck) thinking the best thing for her daughter is to act like she doesn't want her anymore so the devastated girl will go live with her rich dad. (Oh, sure, that didn't cause any psychological damage.)

I'm always furious, yelling at the TV, "Who would do that? That was so stupid!''

But actually ... this whole Jamie Carey-coming-back-to-Stanford story is not entirely unlike one of those movies. It's not sappy, no one has done anything moronic. And I doubt they'll have any violin music accompanying Carey's appearance with Texas at Maples Pavilion when the West No. 2 seed Longhorns meet sixth-seeded Minnesota in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night.

However, from a "nobility'' and "do the right thing'' standpoint, there is some connection. Also, because I really can't think of any "dramas'' quite like this before in women's hoops.

As most folks are aware, Carey was the Pac-10 freshman of the year in 2000 with Stanford, then "retired'' from basketball because of the effects of concussions. She sat out the next two years with an ever-growing certainty that she could come back.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer supported her through it all. Frankly, not every coach would do this. Even when it appeared Carey was truly finished playing, VanDerveer was still interested and tuned in to Carey's life.

And when Carey reached the point where she was absolutely certain she was ready to return -- "I know my own head,'' she said -- that was when VanDerveer and her staff put what was best for Carey ahead of anything else.

Yes, they desperately wanted her back at Stanford. Anyone who doesn't understand the immense value of a play-making point guard who also can score just needed to watch the second-round upsets of Stanford and Kansas State this past week.

But Stanford's medical staff wasn't comfortable giving Carey the go-ahead to play, and instead referred her to doctors in Austin, Texas, who were specialists in head injuries.

I talked to Carey last summer, along with Texas' team physician for women's athletics, Mark Chassay. Carey sounded as if she'd been given a new lease on life.

"Basketball is just an amazing feeling, not something you can explain or put into words,'' she said then, explaining that for a year she'd been symptom-free of concussion problems. "It's kind of the love of my life. I couldn't let it go.''

Chassay talked about how difficult it is to evaluate the way different people will respond to head trauma and how theories are ever-evolving. He stressed that just because Stanford's doctors didn't clear Carey didn't mean the two medical staffs were at odds with each other. The data on concussions keeps flowing in, and the truth is, there are not the hard and fast certainties that there might be in regard to recovery from other injuries.

Jamie Carey
While at Stanford, Jamie Carey was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
There is a long and very detailed "check list'' for Carey and Texas to follow as she's continually monitored to make certain she's OK. And she has done an excellent job of playing hard without taking unnecessary risks.

For Texas, she was the missing piece. It was never planned that way, but it is what has happened. A bout with mono earlier this season was really the only thing that slowed her. She has played in 27 of Texas' 32 games, averaging 10.6 points and 3.6 assists.

She leads the team with 52 3-pointers. And it has seemed that in every game, she has hit one right when Texas needs it.

Carey turned 22 on March 12, the day of the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals in Dallas. Three days later, she was celebrating a league tourney championship, the first for Texas in the Big 12.

After that game, she stood in the hallway outside the locker room at Reunion Arena positively beaming.

"I guess I've sort of been on the very low, and right now the real high,'' she said. "The ride has been amazing. I'll tell you, I don't regret one day fighting to play basketball again. This certainly makes it worth it.

"I guess I just kept believing in it. I think if you want something bad enough, you find a way to do it.''

Now some might point out that when you're also an extremely intelligent young woman, perhaps you shouldn't take the risk, that basketball isn't worth it. There's a million things Carey can do in this life.

But like she said, she knows her head. And she has been through countless tests and safety checkpoints.

Sure, her teammates tend to rush over just a little quicker if she ever goes down. Carey knows folks will worry. But she has come all the way back, and now has a chance to help Texas go to the Final Four.

That will take two victories in the building that Carey knows inside and out, in front of Stanford fans, ex-teammates and former coaches who really miss her ... but at least don't have to be torn this weekend. With the Cardinal out, Texas becomes Stanford's surrogate team because of Carey.

Obviously, people usually transfer because they're unhappy someplace. So if Carey's situation isn't unique, it's certainly extremely rare: Someone who left reluctantly, but with the blessing and full support of one program. And now returns to what used to be "home,'' wearing different colors and chasing a dream with somebody else.

Hmm ... think they could film Texas' action at Maples in black and white, then show it on American Movie Classics?

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at

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