NO DOUBTING DOTY
Pro-Kremlin demonstrators dressed in WWII army uniforms and carrying replicas of Soviet Army WWII banners reading, Ukrainian Front, march in central Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March 2, 2014 to express support for the latest developments in Russian-Ukrainian relations. Banners are those of units that were liberating Ukraine from Nazi occupation during WWII. AP
Her light brown hair held back by a piece of pink athletic pre-wrap, arms toned from years of weight lifting and legs molded by multitudes of suicide sprints, redshirt senior guard Caroline Doty looks just like the rest of her UConn women's basketball teammates.
There is one exception: the bulky black brace tightly wrapped around her left knee.
That brace became a part of her life as a result of three separate tears of the anterior cruciate ligament in three years, which forced Doty to sit out a season and a half of college basketball.
Despite the disappointment, she never thought about quitting. That, she said, was never in the equation.
"Just the love for the game," Doty says of her motivation to bounce back from each of her injuries. "You know, I've loved it since I was little ... there's nothing better than coming out for a game and seeing the fans and being in the jersey and warming up and being excited for the plays. I just loved it, I couldn't give it up."
Three years, three tears
After committing to UConn in November of her junior year, Doty - a three-sport athlete in high school - decided to continue playing her other sports during her senior year at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Penn.
"People were saying, 'Oh, don't play your other sports, just stick with basketball training,' and stuff," Doty said, recalling her first injury in an interview in the hallway outside of the team's locker room in Gampel Pavilion in October. "But I couldn't quit. I played varsity soccer, varsity track all four years in high school, so I can't quit."
Though her father was not keen on the idea because of the chance of injury, Doty said head coach Geno Auriemma never had a problem with her desire to play soccer her final year.
"I called him before and I was like, 'Hey, coach, I'm thinking about playing soccer this year. What do you say?'" Doty said. "He goes, 'It's your last year to play, go for it.'"
Then, in one of her first games of the season, she collapsed into a heap after being taken out awkwardly by a slide tackle. She knew what had happened.
"It just ripped apart," Doty said. "It was bad. It felt like my leg just separated."
She had torn her MCL, ACL and had injured her lateral collateral ligament in the collision. In the blink of an eye, a slew of missed opportunities - the ability to finish out her high school basketball career, the chance to become a McDonald's Basketball All-American - flashed through Doty's mind.
But never did the possibility of losing her UConn scholarship cross her mind, even though she had not yet signed her letter of intent - she only had a verbal commitment.
The ESPN No. 10 ranked recruit in the nation was determined to rehab her knee and be back in shape in time to join the Huskies for her freshman season in Storrs a little over a year from when the injury occurred.
Not only did Doty recover in time for the season, she was one of the original starters and played alongside the likes of all-time greats Maya Moore, Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles.
As a guard, she started the first 17 games of the season, averaging 8.6 points per game. But in a game against Syracuse in January, as she sprinted down the court on a fast break, she crashed to the floor. There were 17 seconds remaining in the half of the 17th game in which she had scored 17 points.
Her left knee had again given out, leaving her sidelined for the remainder of the year.
Despite losing one of their star freshmen, the Huskies won the NCAA championship in the 2008-2009 season. But Doty could do nothing but watch the title run.
"It was tough because I was still so immature and I figured the only way I could be a part of the team is if I was on the court," Doty said after a practice in late November.
Because Doty had already played more than one-third of the season, she was unable to apply for a medical redshirt. So she returned to a rehab regimen, hoping to be back for her sophomore season.
"The whole rehab, it sucked," Doty said. "You need to get through the first month or two, and then you're walking and doing more. And then you just start training again, so it just felt like you were training for a very long time."
She realized her goal to return for the 2009-2010 season, starting in all but one game. Over the course of the season, she averaged 25.3 minutes per game - up from 23.9 minutes during her freshman year - and racked up 136 assists and averaged 6.8 points per game.
But once again, Doty was the victim of a cruel twist of fate.
"I wasn't wearing a brace because I didn't have to at the time and I remember I got hit," Doty said, smacking the back of her left knee as she recalled her third ACL tear in three years. "And I remember it go a little bit and I walked off and I was like, 'Oh, that felt weird.' I kept playing, I kept playing. It swelled up a little bit but it wasn't too bad."
Other than some slight swelling and a little discomfort, the third tear left Doty in little pain. She continued to train for several days, unaware that something was seriously wrong with her knee.
But one morning about a week later, she woke up to a swollen knee and she decided to drive home to see her doctor in Doylestown. On the way back to Storrs, she received a call from her doctor with the news that her left ACL had again torn.
"Tears," Doty said. Her eyes grew red and puffy as she remembered the call. "And I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.'" I don't really think it hit me - I was driving home so I was by myself so then I called my mom, called my dad, called my brothers and I was just like, 'Oh my God, doing it again.'"
Forced to sit the entire 2010-2011 season because of the third tear, Doty redshirted what would have been her junior season.
Last year, Doty returned to the court and managed to make it through the season injury-free. Despite it being her fourth year on campus, it was just her second full season in a UConn uniform.
After seeing a decline in her playing time and production during that season - she fell to just 20.6 minutes per game, 5.0 points per game and tallied just 71 assists - her role during games as a senior this year seems to be fairly limited.
Though she's started 16 of the team's first 18 games, the intense competition at guard from senior Kelly Faris, junior Bria Hartley, sophomore Brianna Banks and freshman Moriah Jefferson has left the injury-plagued Doty to play just under 18 minutes per night. In that limited time, Doty has averaged four points, 2.5 assists and 2.7 rebounds. Those numbers were aided in large part due to a double-double performance at Oregon on New Year's Eve. The 14 points and 12 rebounds she posted that afternoon remain her season-highs to this point.
A few weeks prior to that breakout game against the Ducks, on Dec. 3, Doty finally reached the 100-game milestone that for most players, especially at UConn, is fairly routine.
"We play a lot of games at Connecticut, so we've had a lot of kids who have played a lot ... and to have Caroline fight through those three ACLs, obviously it's not easy to do that and it takes a lot of character on her part to keep playing," Auriemma said that night after his team dispatched No. 9 Maryland.
But despite her perseverance, the trio of tears has left her vulnerable to flare ups and occasional swelling that always bear the unfortunate possibility of leaving her sidelined.
Evidence of the damage done came in the team's first exhibition game this season, when Auriemma relegated her to the bench because of a tweak to her knee.
"All year long, there's going to be issues," Auriemma said after that early November exhibition. "For the most part, I think it's nothing for anybody to worry about, anybody to obsess about, because there's nothing you can do about it. I would say 90 percent of the time in practice and 90 percent of the time when she's out on the floor in games, there's no problems whatsoever. But given her history, there's just enough times when it's like, 'Uh oh.' And then those times we just shut it down, walk away from it and live to play another day."
Though the decision to sit her for that exhibition was mostly precautionary to help keep her knee healthy throughout the course of the season, Doty acknowledged that the knee requires a certain degree of special care to sustain it.
"Not before practice usually - a lot of stuff is after practice," Doty says about protecting her knee. "I try to get in the cold tub, or I try to 'game ready,' or I try to foam roll, then cold tub - so just a few different things to maintain it."
Though she will likely not be able to put in the same number of minutes that she has in the past, Auriemma still has high hopes for his fifth-year senior and knows that her experience, more so than her physical abilities, is the greatest strength she brings to the team.
Three tears in the same knee have stolen more from Doty than just time on the court - they've also taken pieces of her game away.
"You're 23 years old, you know, you played on an undefeated team that won a national championship, you've missed a season," Auriemma said of Doty in the preseason. "You've seen the best, you've seen the absolute pinnacle of what there is to see in college basketball and you've struggled to find your role last year.
"So, I hope Caroline does the little things that she's capable of doing: be a good teammate, make open shots, make good decisions out on the floor, try to help some of the younger guys with what they're going through. I think it comes to a point in every players' career when they realize, 'Wow, I don't have what I used to have, I'm not physically able to do what I used to do, so now I've got to be a better player mentally.' And I'm hoping that's where she's going to have the biggest impact for us."
Explosiveness, hard cuts and aggressive drives to the rim are a small, if not non-existent, part of her repertoire, whereas she could once get to the hole almost at will.
Though she is still capable of shooting - especially from behind the arc, where she shot 33 percent last season - and playing strong, effort-driven defense, Doty is no longer the same player that she was when she first committed to the Huskies.
"It's funny, I always talk about back in the 'high school days'...every layup I was able to hit the backboard, I was able to get to the lane whenever I wanted, I was more of a penetrating guard than a shooting guard," Doty said of how her injuries have changed her game. "Now I've taken on the role of finessing my three-point shot, being more of a vocal player - an energizer more than a playmaker."
"Physically, it's taken away some things," assistant coach Shea Ralph said of Doty's knee.
And if anyone at UConn can understand what Doty has endured and how knee injuries can change a player, it has to be Ralph.
Ralph had five ACL surgeries during her career - three in her left knee and two in her right. She was hired by Auriemma as an assistant before Doty's freshman year and has been with her every step of the way throughout her college career.
Throughout the surgeries, rehabilitation and the pain they both know so well, a relationship that transcends that of most players and coaches has been forged between the two.
"If I ever needed anything, she had an open door for me to go to," Doty said of her coach. "And she definitely helped out a lot - I'm lucky to have her as a coach and as someone who's so close."
Among the things Ralph helped her to understand throughout the process of rehabilitating and returning from all three surgeries is the mindset needed to bounce back from an injury so devastating.
"Here's the thing, when you come back from an injury, there has to be a certain kind of stubbornness to you to come back and be successful because you have to want to fight that hard to get back," Ralph said. "But then on the flipside of that is that when you get back, you can't be stubborn. You have to understand what the differences are in your body and you have to go with that. So I think it's a very hard thing because usually you're one way or the other ... I think she's finally found a balance that works."
Unfortunately, like Ralph, ACL injuries have likely cut Doty's playing career short. Though she says she would like to keep her options open and could potentially try to play overseas, she knows that a professional career in basketball may not be in her future, so she is beginning to make other plans.
Now a graduate student, Doty plans on staying on the UConn campus one more year to get her master's degree. As an undergrad, she crafted an individualized major in sports marketing and sports agency, but as she has progressed throughout her time in Storrs, her plans for the future have shifted away from that field.
"I'm really interested in coaching," Doty said. "It's kind of weird because before I didn't want to do that or really get into it. But now, being around it and seeing how fun it is and getting close with the coaches and being here for five years, I've grown to like it."
Despite what her injuries have taken from her and how they have changed her, there are still plenty of things that remain intact: her defense, her passing, her shooting and - most importantly - her ability to have fun.
Even though it was the sport that began her series of injuries, Doty maintains her love of soccer and attends UConn games regularly. This October, she and junior center Stefanie Dolson made their way to Rentschler Field with some teammates and friends to watch the U.S. Women's national team play Germany.
"She's definitely not introverted, she's very outgoing, easy going, kind of 'go with the flow,'" Dolson, one of Doty's three roommates, said about her friend.
Doty, once described by Auriemma as a "dork," has a penchant for goofy inside jokes and being able to make even the simple things like watching TV a fun time, Dolson says.
"One day in practice I quoted 'Pitch Perfect' like four times," Dolson recalled, describing one of her favorite memories with her roommate. "She was the only one that got it and we were just dying laughing the entire practice."
Though the two are close both on and off the court, there is one thing about her roommate that bothers Dolson.
"She tells a lot of the same stories - she's a story repeater," Dolson says.
But Dolson may have to learn to forgive her friend for the repetition; her story is worth telling.
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