Deirdre Naughton was laying poolside when her cell phone rang on a Friday in early August. It was the NCAA calling to tell her she had been granted a sixth year of eligibility to play for DePaul women’s basketball team.
Naughton immediately sprung to her feet and jumped around in celebration.
The catch was she couldn’t tell any of her teammates until it was finalized on Monday. Naughton promised she would keep her mouth shut for the weekend.
Not long after she hung up, she called her teammate and close friend Sam Quigley.
“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but she told me on Friday,” Quigley said, laughing. “I remember her calling me, and I was screaming hysterically. I was probably more excited than she was.”
Naughton can be forgiven for blabbing. Her first senior season came to an end when she tore the ACL in her right knee on Nov. 24, 2009, and she had to wait until Aug. 7, 2010 to find out if she would be able to play college basketball again.
In between, she had surgery, was initially denied her sixth year of eligibility, appealed that decision, rehabbed, spent a semester student-teaching and anxiously waited for the NCAA’s ruling.
Now sometime in the coming weeks, Naughton’s college career will finally end for good. Whether it’s Saturday when No. 3-seeded DePaul goes up against No. 14 Navy in the opening round of the NCAA tournament or on April 5 in the championship game in Indianapolis, Naughton will depart feeling grateful she was given one final go around.
Nights like last month’s DePaul win over Notre Dame in her final home game are memories Naughton will forever cherish.
“I was talking to my physical therapist and said every crying session we had, all the pain was worth senior night,” Naughton said. “It was one of the best nights I’ve had at DePaul. It was the perfect way to go out.”
Getting to that point wasn’t easy. She did cry. She did feel pain. There were definitely plenty more of downs than ups.
Some of her hardest days came in the spring while juggling her rehab with student-teaching at Amundsen High School in Chicago. She’d get up at 6 a.m., travel to Amundsen, teach until 3:30 p.m., grab a bite to eat, rehab her knee for two hours and then finally prepare for the following day of classes. Often, she wouldn’t get to sleep until 3:30 a.m.
“It was really hard,” Naughton said. “I slept three hours a night. There was a point where I finally couldn’t do it anymore. It did get easier.
“Student-teaching was important to me. At the same time, it was important to get my knee better. It was the biggest thing on my mind. I couldn’t get in the gym much. I was behind in rehab. It was a pretty stressful time.”
Quigley, who was also student-teaching, rarely saw her roommate during that period. When Quigley did catch Naughton, she made sure to encourage Naughton to keep on pushing ahead with her rehab. Quigley had suffered a similar injury and knew exactly what her friend was facing.
“You can have good days and bad days at times,” Quigley said. “There were times she was just kind of not wanting to go to rehab, not wanting to do certain things. I stayed positive with her.”
Without Quigley’s support, Naughton isn’t sure she could have gotten through some of those rough times.
“I wouldn’t say I was depressed,” said Naughton, who transferred to DePaul after her freshman season at Wake Forest due to health problems in her family. “There were times I was nostalgic. I knew things could be a lot different. It was hard in the summer. I wanted to be back playing basketball. I didn’t want to be a grad assistant yet.”
Naughton’s final season hasn’t been perfect. She strained her calf muscle in a game against Pittsburgh in early December and was sidelined for another month. She also didn’t pick up where she left off in 2009. Back then, she was considered one of the top guards in the country, and now she comes off the bench and contributes where she can.
Realistically, it probably won’t be until next season when Naughton is pursuing a professional career that she’ll begin looking more like her old self.
Naughton came to terms with that before she ever took the court this season.
“I never came in thinking I wouldn’t be the same person I was,” she said. “If I’m out there and can get some shots up, that’s good. There are some other people for us who out there doing things right now. I’m just trying to stay within myself and stay within the team.
“I came into every practice like I was a freshman again. I [have] never played as a bench player. You have to make something happen right away or you’re going to be taken out. It’s been a humbling experience.”
Naughton has done her part to contribute to DePaul’s success this season. She drained five 3-pointers and scored 19 points to help the Blue Demons win at Syracuse on Feb. 8. She scored 12 points in 12 minutes in a win over Georgetown on Feb. 20. Overall, she’s averaged 5.8 points and 13.4 minutes a game while DePaul has gone 27-6.
“She still has some old Deirdre Naughton flashes,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. “This Deirdre Naughton is still very important to us. You can’t turn the clock back and have the Deirdre Naughton that was. You have to have the Deirdre Naughton that is. This Deirdre Naughton still has a chance to go into a game and have a positive effect on the game for us. We’re excited to have that option.”
It’s not a journey Naughton would ever want to repeat, but she does think she came out the better for it.
“I know there’s a lot of things I’ve learned,” Naughton said. “Let me try to put it into words. I don’t think I’m the most positive person. The biggest thing I learned was being more positive in life.”