During her 16 months of recovery between two ACL injuries, when the physical therapy was grueling and the helpless gazing at teammates on the court was punishing, Lambert’s Jaleah Greene needed to hear the countdown of when it would all be over.
Then in middle school, Greene had only recently been convinced to play the sport. Even so, her potential was obvious: she was tall and athletic, passed down perhaps from her two basketball-playing parents. But suffering the same major leg injury twice in two years – once to each leg – could be demoralizing to such a young career.
So Greene’s teammates kept reminding her of the finish line.
“My teammates kept telling me, it’s only a couple more months, you can do this,” Greene said.
Meanwhile, her parents kept preaching to her about the bigger picture.
“When you look back on it you’re going to be so glad it happened to you,” Greene remembers them saying. “It’s made you so much stronger as a person and everything.”
The messaging sustained Greene, bringing her to now, when the junior forward is in the midst of a breakout season with a Lambert team in the midst of its own. Greene is averaging 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, contributing her low-post scoring into the Lady Longhorn’s balanced concoction of guard-heavy talent. On Friday, she had a season- and team-high 18 points to go along with four rebounds and four steals in a dominating victory against county and Region 5-7A rival West Forsyth.
Her emergence has been among the myriad factors for Lambert’s best start in school history. The Lady Longhorns enter Friday’s game against near-by rival South Forsyth at 13-2 overall, 2-0 in the region and ranked No. 3 in Class 7A by MaxPreps.com.
As a team, Greene admits the Lady Longhorns feel a new pressure, but they channel it.
“We take that kind of as a positive and we use that in practice to make us work harder and it makes us get better each and every day,” Greene said. “We know that North [Forsyth] is still very good and South is still very good and so is West. And we just have to know if we don’t come in every day with that killer mentality then they may come out and beat us, so it makes us want to work harder.”
Greene also admits she has her own unique pressure. On a team filled with guards like M.E. Craven, Summer Edwards, Kara Kidwell and Molly Williams, Greene is the team’s lone scoring presence under the basket.
“I think for me taking on that role it’s been hard a little bit,” Greene said.
Only not as hard as taking up the sport in the sixth grade and flying past rudimentary recreational leagues and into year-round AAU play with the North Georgia Magic. Or those back-to-back years with ACL injuries – first in a seventh-grade game on a seemingly innocuous pivot move, the second in eighth grade when she collided with a teammate in practice. Or the extra lower-body strength work her surgeon prescribed to compensate for the way her knees are naturally turned in.
“She told me it’s kind of like when you have to brush your teeth more than most people,” Greene said. “Most people brush their teeth twice a day. For me, it’s like three of four times a day.”
Greene pushed through all of it with her love for the only sport she’s ever played intact. Her favorite professional team is now the Golden State Warriors. Her favorite women’s college basketball team is the University of Washington.
And her favorite thing to think about is her future playing college basketball, a vision that crystallized for Greene during those 16 months of rehabbing and watching, when she discovered just what basketball had come to mean to her.
“Without basketball, I don’t know what I would do honestly,” Greene said. “…I just love it so much.”