Syracuse women's basketball: Moving forward without Brittney Sykes

As the junior continues to recover from a torn ACL, SU will rely on its improved depth to compete in the ACC.

After Syracuse guard Brittney Sykes suffered a torn ACL in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, one of the first people she spoke to was teammate Maggie Morrison

Morrison, a senior transfer from Vanderbilt, previously tore her ACL when she was a freshman playing for the Commodores.   

“I would never wish that injury on anybody,” Morrison said. “It’s not something that’s easy to go through.” 

Sykes has learned that the hard way, as the junior continues to rehab her knee in preparation for the 2014-15 season. While Sykes said she feels great, there is no timetable for her return to the Orange lineup. 

Until then, SU head coach Quentin Hillsman will need to rely on the Orange’s depth to replace her important offensive contributions. 

“(Sykes) is moving around. She’s shooting the ball, so we’re expecting her to come back at some point during the season full-strength,” Hillsman said.  “We’re not going to play her at 80 percent. We know that her skill set is her athleticism, so for us whenever the doctors clear her…she’ll be back.” 

The Orange’s leading returning scorer from last season, Sykes has leaned on her family, friends and teammates for support during her recovery process. 

Throughout the summer, she hit the treadmill and did plenty of leg raises and lunges to strengthen her knee. 

Often, she worked out with other SU athletes, including injured men’s basketball player DaJuan Coleman. 

“We have been pushing each other,” Coleman said. “It motivates me because we’re both trying to get back to where we want to be.” 

Morrison, meanwhile, has used the power of laughter to speed up the healing process. 

While rehabbing at Vanderbilt, Morrison’s trainer told her she had to name her knee. The name would have to include the word knee, so Morrison decided on “Kneesee.”  

To keep Sykes’ spirits high, Morrison told her she would have to come up with a nickname for her injured knee. Sykes decided on “Kneal.” The nicknames have stuck and, more importantly, they helped Sykes keep a light-hearted mindset during her recovery.  

Conversations with her family also fueled Sykes’ desire to attack the injury head-on. 

“I think once I had a talk with my family and I talked with my grandma, I realized that I can’t run from it,” Sykes said, “and for me, it was going to rehab and just knowing that each exercise I do is getting me that much closer to 100 percent to get back to this team.” 

Hillsman said Sykes will play as soon as she reaches that point. For now, though, the pressure falls on other players to score points. 

One of those is junior Brianna Butler, who set a program record with 100 three-point field goals last season. 

Another player Hillsman believes can have an immediate scoring impact is Tennessee Tech transfer Diamond Henderson. Henderson averaged nearly 20 points per game last season as a Golden Eagle. 

“(Henderson’s) an explosive scorer. She can score from all spots on the floor,” Hillsman said. “She can shoot it. If you really pressure up on her, she’s really going to get to the basket.” 

Henderson, who has been given the nickname “Grandma” by her teammates because of her age and experience, is confident in her ability to succeed as she transfers from the Ohio Valley Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

“There’s going to be some games where I’m trying to figure things out, but I think my teammates do a good job of prepping me about certain teams in the ACC so I’m pretty excited,” Henderson said. “I’m not nervous about it all. This is what God gave me to do, so I’m going to handle my business as best as I can.” 

Hillsman wants to employ a seven-starter system throughout the season while frequently utilizing the depth on his bench. 

Expected to compete for a regular slot is Morrison, who couldn’t play last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Hillsman said she will provide versatility at the guard spot. 

Junior Cornelia Fondren and sophomore Alexis Peterson will also be expected to up their game until Sykes returns.  

For now, all Sykes can do is continue to rehab and get stronger for her team, a unit that has fueled her to the verge of a full recovery. 

“Even those days where you wake up and you feel sore and I’m laying in bed... ‘Ugh, I don’t want to get up.’ I still get up.” Sykes said. “This team means everything to me.” 

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