Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rider's Lightbourne Perserveres To Keep Playing On

You think Shereen Lightbourne, Rider's fifth-year senior guard, still has that proverbial competitive fire?

With a little over a minute left and her team holding a double-digit lead, she slammed the ball to the court after getting called for a touch foul in Thursday's opening-round MAAC tournament victory over Saint Peter's.

You think the 5-foot-10 Lightbourne still likes to play?

How about never missing a day of practice this year, being on the court for all 95 of them, as well as, now, 30 2013-14 season's games and still counting.

You think Lightbourne wants to play?

A full year of rehab after she suffered a torn ACL just prior to her junior season was evidence of that.

And, then, she did that all over again after tearing the ACL in her other knee ... on the first day of practice entering the 2012-13 season.

By the end of that year she not only hadn't been on a basketball court for two full seasons, but she had already earned her undergraduate degree in computer information services and could have gone on to begin real life.

Think she still wanted to play?

There she was, back for more on the first day of practice of the 2013-14 season. And, this time, she has made it to the very end.

Thursday she played her season's high of 30 minutes, had 15 points, three assists and played her typically smoothering perimeter defense.

"I wanted to come back because I felt like I had some unfinished business," said Lightbourne, after Thursday's 64-55 victory over the Peacocks.

Think Lightbourne likes to play? Last season's layoff was actually caused by her third ACL injury. Her first came prior to her junior season in high school. She actually stayed upright for the next three years, turned in a sophomore season worthy of team MVP designation as a sophomore at Rider and, then, nothing but absence from the game throughout 2011-12, and 2012-13.

"After the second knee injury (at Rider) my parents told me that if I didn't want to play again, no one would ever call me a quitter," she said.

But, she still wanted to play. She was averaging 12.7 minutes per game prior to her 30-minute cour presence on Thursday, but minutes have increased as the season progressed, particularly since starting point guard Mikal Johnson went down her own knee injury in mid-February.

"It has been an amazing feat for her to come back after three ACL's," said Rider coach Lynn Milligan. "It's not a surprise that she's starting to peak now. It took her October, November and December to get her legs back and, then, to get back into game shape.

"She has done everything we've asked of her, and she has given us everthing her body has allowed. She has exceeded everyone's expectations."

So, Lightbourne perservers, making some very minor concessions in practices when the knees act up a little. She wears compression socks that extend up to her knees and knee pads above those that extend halfway up both thighs.

"Yeah, I asked `why me,' especially after all the work to come back when I hurt the knee again prior to last season," she admits. "But that didn't last long."

Nor has any self pity, even on those days when the knees get a little sore, as if to remind her of everything she has endured.

"When that happens, I just think of how much pain I went through to get to this point, and whatever I'm feeling now isn't anything like that," she added.

Now, she just has a longer post-game ritual: ice, heat pads, more ice.

It's a small price to pay.

She just wants to play. The knees have finally begun cooperating again, giving her a chance that she is now using to her full advantage.

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