Women's Basketball |
Nov. 29, 2010
By Garrett Sabelhaus
Shelly Bellman knows the UC campus better than any of her coaches. That shouldn't come as a surprise considering she's been at the University of Cincinnati playing basketball since the fall of 2005.
She's onto her third head coach over her six-year stint, finally playing in her senior season this year after a career full of knee troubles.
A week before her junior season was set to begin in 2007; she came down awkwardly on her left knee in practice and tore her ACL.
It was a bad blow to Bellman who led the Bearcats in rebounding her freshman and sophomore years. She finished second on the team in scoring as a freshman, averaging 10.9 points per game and third on the team her sophomore year at 10.6 per game.
After surgery and a missed season in 2007, Bellman was able to come back from the injury for her junior season in 2008.
She started all 29 games as a freshman and 20 of 28 as a sophomore. The workload stayed the same when she finally got to her junior season where she started all 28 games she played in averaging 30 minutes per contest. The production was way down though and something was still wrong with her knee.
She went from leading the team in rebounds her first two seasons to ranking fourth on the team in 2008-09 when she averaged 3.8 per game after averaging over six her first two years.
Her point production also went down as Bellman went from averaging over 10 points a game in the two seasons prior to the injury to 6.9 points per game her junior year. She was shooting just 32 percent, 11 percentage points lower than her freshman shooting percentage and eight lower than her sophomore year.
As it turned out, Bellman was suffering from Chronic Patella Tendonitis in the same knee she had reconstructive ACL surgery.
"I was pretty much playing in pain every day in practice and games," Bellman said.
Her trainers and surgeon decided to have her ride out the season and then determine the next step in trying to repair the knee.
Little did they know Bellman wouldn't make it to the end of the season. In the second-to-last game of the season against South Florida, Bellman was driving to the basket for a layup when she tore her Patella Tendon.
The injury required another surgery and ended Bellman's junior season a game short. With a full offseason ahead of her, Bellman stayed persistent and planned to be ready for her senior season in the fall of 2009.
Then came another setback.
Doctors noticed the knee wasn't healing the way it should have and went in for yet another surgery.
Just when it looked like the knee would be ready in time for a senior season, the unthinkable happened. Bellman tore the same tendon in her knee requiring another surgery and postponing her senior season for another year.
In five years she had played just three seasons. Her choices were cut and dry: give up on basketball or have a fourth surgery on her left knee and try again.
She tried again.
This time doctors seemed to figure it out. Surgeons performed allograft surgery where they replaced Bellman's bad tendon with one from a cadaver.
After more rehab Bellman was finally ready, six years after coming to UC, to begin her senior season.
"That must have been the trick because my knee has felt amazing ever since," Bellman said. "It really feels good right now, the Patella Tendon's holding up and there's no pain whatsoever."
Her game is returning to early-career form too. Through five games this season she has her scoring average back up near double figures at 9.6 points per game and her shooting percentage, although early, is the highest it's ever been at 51 percent.
Averaging 24 minutes a game, Bellman is also hitting the boards like the old days averaging five per game.
Even though she's feeling great, Bellman said she has to play differently now after her knee has been through so much.
"I'm definitely getting into basketball shape," said Bellman who didn't start playing five-on-five until September 2010, just two months before the season began. "I'm a hustle player but I can't be diving on the floor after every loose ball and flying around for every rebound. I can't be everywhere on the court like I want to be. I have to be smarter."
It seems to have come full circle for Bellman who is finally getting the opportunity to play her senior season as one of two seniors on the squad.
Even second-year head coach Jamelle Elliott didn't think Bellman would be able to add much to the team when she told her she wanted to come back for a sixth year.
"I thought we would get nothing more out of her than her being great in the locker room from a leadership perspective, her maybe giving us five or 10 minutes a game and missing a whole lot of practice time," Elliott said. "So far she's missed no practice time, she's played over 20 minutes in a couple of the games and she's been productive. It couldn't happen to a nicer, greater kid."
Bellman has been instrumental in the team's 5-0 start and started Sunday against Valparaiso for the first time since the day she tore her tendon against South Florida in early 2009.
Her 11 points in the road win made her one of four Bearcats in double figures. She also hauled in five rebounds.
Bellman's persistence has finally paid off for her.
"I really feel like I'm myself again back on the court," she said.
Four surgeries later she finally is herself again.