ABBOTSFORD — There is an old saying which tells us that success can be measured by the height of one’s bounce after hitting the bottom.
By those metrics, it would have been easy to doom Fraser Valley Cascades senior forward Shayna Litman for a university basketball career defined by its mediocrity.
After all, under the combined weight of a battle-scarred left knee and a case of heavy-hearted emotional unrest, how was a girl who was falling out of love with the game supposed to re-discover her long-lost bounce?
Getting fully healthy for the first time since she graduated from Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary back in 2012 has done wonders.
And so to, it seems, has honest self-reflection.
“I just decided that I was getting too old to be mad,” says Litman, 23, pridefully exorcising a temperament which she acknowledges took away from her ability to be the best version of herself.
“Over the summer, I really re-evaluated myself,” continued the 5-foot-11 forward, set to begin her sixth season within the UFV program when Fraser Valley opens the 2017-18 Canada West season Friday with the first of back-to-back games against the Thunderbirds at UBC’s War Memorial Gymnasium.
“I wanted to give people a chance to see that there is more to me than just this emotional player who is always mad at herself. It held me back in high school.”
Couple that with the fact that she played the first three seasons of her university career without realizing that she had torn her left ACL in March of her senior year of high school, and you have a player who is finally in command of her total game.
Litman’s preseason scoring average of 19 points-per-game is almost double her regular-season average of a season ago. And in her final two exhibitions, against both Alberta and host Calgary this past weekend, she put up back-to-back 26-point outings.
“She has exceeded expectations in terms of the leader she has turned into,” says UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer. “I see the maturity she now has and the quality of teammate she has become. It makes me so proud.”
REFUSING TO LIMP AWAY
Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary was once the epicentre of girls high school basketball in B.C.
In fact it will be 30 years ago this March when the Centaurs won their second of back-to-back provincial Triple A titles.
Times have been a lot tougher, but Litman helped lead a recent resurgence.
As a ninth grader in 2008-09, she joined the senior varsity and helped the Centaurs snap a 16-year provincial tourney drought.
However two weeks before the start of the Fraser Valley championships in her Grade 12 (2011-12) season, Litman suffered a knee injury which would haunt her for virtually her entire university career.
Litman joined the Cascades at the program’s zenith, playing the role of a key reserve as UFV advanced to back-to-back national championship tournaments her first two seasons (2012-13, 13-14).
In that second year, averaging 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, the Cascades advanced to the CIS national Final 4, ultimately finishing third in the nation.
Yet through it all, Litman’s knee was not co-operating.
“In the first week of my first season, doing defensive drills it would just lock up on me,” she remembers. “Halfway through that year I had to get a brace. My knee came up negative on the MRI and we just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
“But by my third year, I just couldn’t run anymore,” Litman continues. “By the end of that (2014-15) season, I couldn’t even do basic cutting on the floor. It was at that point I knew I had to get surgery.”
Discovering that her ACL had indeed been torn all those years was something of a revelation, yet while surgery was a reality, Litman began to wonder if she had the wherewithal to want to keep her university basketball career alive.
“It was hard and I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing,” she begins. “I was sitting out, just watching everyone practice, and that was the season that Kayli came back.”
Of course Litman is referencing the comeback in 2015-16 of former star Kayli Sartori, who returned from sabbatical to lead the conference in scoring (18.4 ppg) that season finish and then finish her career last season in fifth (16.4).
“I really wanted to play with her so it was especially hard to sit out,” Litman continued. “Then things after the surgery didn’t go well, and things weren’t healing like they were supposed to. It made me consider if basketball is what I really wanted. But my teammates were so supportive and in the end, I couldn’t picture going to school and not going to practice.”
And so she persevered.
And through it all, whether you want to call it a more holistic approach or not, she decided to nourish not only her wounded knee, but her wounded psyche as well.
UN-BRACED FOR THE FUTURE
Ask Tuchscherer what the most rewarding moments are for him as a coach, and there will always be a spot on the list for the front-row seat that affords the view of a player’s growth and maturity within the program.
“I have known Shayna since she was in Grade 10 and even back then, her talent was undeniable,” says Tuchscherer.
“She always had the traits of a great player,” he continued. “But she was always super emotional as well, and that really took away from her game in a lot of ways. It took her a long time to build trust between her teammates and coaches, and any feedback given would be quite personal to her. So it’s been so rewarding to see her maturity.”
That’s all pretty heavy.
Yet Litman owns every ounce of it and more.
“Al has told me, high school coaches have told me, I’m pretty self-aware,” Litman says of the reputation she had built. “That was the first thing that people would say, like, how does Al coach me? And that stung. I want to show people that there is so much more to me.”
And with that, it seems like the best and most genuine version of Shayna Litman is ready to play some hoops.
“I remember doing my first workout (this past offseason) without the knee brace,” she begins. “I was scared. I was so dependent on it for so long. But it was so exciting.
“I could jump higher. I could run faster. I felt even more athletic than I was in high school.”
Kind of like being re-born in a sense.
Yes, the bones are a little bit older, but the bounce is back, better than it ever was.
(UBC hosts Fraser Valley Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m.). The Cascades home opening weekend is Nov. 3 (6 p.m.) and Nov. 4 (5 p.m.) when it plays hosts to Mt. Royal of Calgary.)
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