Taryn Wicijowski makes most of time

Taryn Wicijowski has made good use of her ample time at the University of Utah, of that there is no dispute.

In the six years that she has been a student-athlete, an odyssey necessitated by a pair of knee injuries that have stretched her college basketball career to its maximum, she has taken advantage of the academic opportunities this otherwise unfortunate situation has presented.

Wicijowski has earned a bachelor's degree in biology, with an emphasis in both cellular and molecular biology. She also has earned a degree in psychology, as well as minors in both chemistry and nutrition.

All of which will be useful when she heads to medical school once she is done playing basketball. And after all the delays she has experienced in her playing career, she hopes it's going to be awhile.

"Hopefully, I will be playing professionally for a few years," Wicijowski said. "I don't imagine that I'm going to be playing for 10 years, but I'd like to get in three or four years or more. And then I'll take my MCATs [the medical school entrance exam]."

Wicijowski has had plenty of time to work through this plan, more time, in truth than she ever wanted.

In November 2010, she suffered a torn right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lost her sophomore season, a year after she was named the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year.

When she returned in 2011, the Utes were competing in the Pac-12, and Wicijowski pulled down 11 double-doubles, finishing fifth in the conference in rebounding (8.7 RPG) and 10th in scoring (13.2 PPG).

As a junior, Wicijowski had another strong year (14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and anticipated a strong senior season playing alongside fellow frontcourt standout Michelle Plouffe. The Utes were coming off an appearance in the WNIT final and hoping for a big move forward. Wicijowski saw her team making a long NCAA tournament run.

"It's really rare to have all she has wrapped up into one player." Utah coach Anthony Levrets on Taryn Wicijowski

But then, during that summer, Wicijowski suffered a torn left ACL.

"That one was really hard, because we thought we were going to have a really good recipe," she said, "and when I went down, it felt like that opportunity was taken away."

Utah coach Anthony Levrets doesn't spend a lot of time looking for the lessons in these disappointments, advice he passed along to his star player.

"You can only deal with what's in front of you," Levrets said.

Wicijowski, who graduated last spring and is currently taking elective classes, said she never considered not coming back for a sixth season.

"Never crossed my mind," Wicijowski said. "It didn't seem like an option for me. Anthony told me, 'You want to leave basketball on your terms,' and I agreed with that. I wanted to leave when I was actually done."

In some ways, the injuries were a benefit to her academic pursuits. A fifth year of studies helped her complete her double-major and schedule her long lab classes without having to worry about working around practice.

"Some of those upper-division lab classes run from 12 to 5, and practice would be from 12 to 4," Wicijowski said, "so really this whole thing helped me finish school."

On the other hand, being nearly 24 years old on a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores has its awkward moments.

"I hear some of the things they talk about and I feel old," Wicijowski said. "We are just at different points in our life. It's not a bad thing. I have just had more experiences."

The experience of sitting on the bench and watching two years of basketball has helped her as a player.

"I have learned so much about what not to do," Wicijowski said. "It's helped keep me in the game. I know what we are running, I know what the scout team is doing. It's motivated me to come back."

Levrets has only one word to describe Wicijowski: special.

"It's really rare to have all she has wrapped up into one player," he said.

The Utes are a young team -- with 14 healthy bodies, including four players returning from injury -- in the process of finding their place in a competitive Pac-12. And Wicijowski is leading the way. She is averaging 18.7 points and 12.0 rebounds through a 1-2 start.

"I needed to come back for myself and have the best year I can have," Wicijowski said. "I need to help our young players figure out what it means to be a college basketball player and get them ready.

"When you lose, it's tough and I think you can forget what it takes to win. But we are making progress and overcoming things, because that's who we are."