Diligently, Brooke Rhodes wraps the elastic bandage down her leg from her thigh to below the knee.
Once the bandage is in place, the daily ritual continues with the bulky brace snapped on. Finally, with the help of manager Morgan Barnes, the medical tape is applied to complete the painstaking task that takes several minutes before each workout and practice.
“It is uncomfortable,” Rhodes explains. “I hate my brace. But if it’s what it takes to play, I’ll deal with it.”
For the determined Slidell senior staying off the court was never an option after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in the fifth game of the season.
“I was stubborn,” Rhodes said. “I knew I wouldn’t quit because of a torn ACL. I tell people, brace it, tape it, and let’s play.”
Neither injury nor opponents have slowed Rhodes, who leads Wise County in scoring with 20.3 points per game. She also pulled down 8.8 rebounds while leading the Lady Greyhounds to a third straight district title.
“She’s tougher than I am,” said Slidell coach Cody Vanover. “I hurt mine at 30, and I just wanted to cry like a baby. Here she is doing what she’s doing. It’s a testament to her character.”
As Slidell battled its way through an undefeated district run and a second straight trip to the regional tournament last year, Rhodes watched and waited. After transferring from Sanger, she had to play junior varsity for a year before becoming eligible for varsity competition.
She torched opposing junior varsities, tossing in 30 points or more on most nights.
Vanover watched anxiously waiting for this year to get the physical forward on the floor.
“You could tell the way she was going to play and that she would be a matchup problem for a lot of people,” he said. “We could force feed her inside. And if our outside shooters are hitting, it’d be a real tough matchup.”
To start the season, Rhodes was an unstoppable force inside for the Lady Greyhounds. In the season opener against perennial TAPPS state contender, Muenster Sacred Heart, she posted a double-double of 25 points and 13 rebounds. She followed up with a 29-point, eight-rebound performance against Chico.
In her first four games – all Slidell wins – Rhodes averaged 25.7 points and 13 rebounds.
“The whole team was working together, and it felt great,” she recalled about the start of the season. “Instead of scoring 30 on JV, I was getting 25 on varsity. It was satisfying to keep scoring like I did.”
In the championship game of the Graford Tournament, Rhodes’ torrid pace came to a screeching halt. Barely three minutes into the game, she was back on defense when she got tangled up with two Santo players.
“I think I was trying to block her shot,” Rhodes recalled. “Two girls and I collided. My leg got caught under me, and my knee twisted. It was gross.
“I felt it pop when I fell. I knew from other people it was probably an ACL tear, but I didn’t want to accept it.”
Instead, Rhodes went to a side court and tried to run and jump. She also took ibuprofen and applied pain-relief gel to get back on the court for the third quarter.
“I could run and jump,” Rhodes said. “I couldn’t cut.”
At first, Vanover hoped that it was only a sprain. Quickly after she returned to the game, he realized that it was far more serious.
The full extent of the injury came two weeks later when Rhodes went to the doctor. An MRI revealed a complete tear of the ACL along with tears in the minicus.
That doctor visit only confirmed what she knew, but it didn’t deter her thoughts about returning to the court. Even before getting the MRI, she began strengthening exercises.
“Three to four days after it happened, she had the towel out against the wall trying to build strength,” Vanover said. “It’s a credit to her will and desire to play.”
She rehabbed two to three days per week to gain flexibility and strength. Each session was painful, but not as much as missing the opportunity to play.
“Having to sit on the bench and not get to play was worse,” Rhodes said.
It soon became evident that as long as she could handle the pain, Rhodes would be able to return. While she was happy to get back to her team, Rhodes wondered how effective she would be.
The answers to those questions came Dec. 31 when she took the floor for the first time in a month-and-a-half against Midway. Rhodes scored 10 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in the Lady Greyhounds’ 59-38 win.
“It felt good to be back out there,” she recalled. “My knee hurt every now and then.”
She caused a few anxious moments as she tried to split two defenders, and took a spill to the floor. She came away unharmed.
The injury has robbed Rhodes of some speed and jumping ability. But she claims the limitations have been minimal.
“I can’t run as fast, and I really have to push myself to go faster,” she said.
Vanover said Rhodes has maintained her aggressive style.
“She still attacks,” he said. “[The knee] probably keeps her from drawing as many fouls. But she’s still been pretty good.”
In the 10 games since returning, she’s averaged 19.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.7 assists. She’s shooting 49 percent from the field.
“I’ve been surprised with some of the things I could do,” Rhodes said. “You just have to want it enough. I wanted to go out and finish out my senior season.”
Rhodes and the Lady Greyhounds begin the playoffs Friday with an area round game in Aledo against Covington or Aquilla. She hopes to help her team back to the regional tournament at the end of a trying season, which along with her injury included the loss of senior point guard Sarah Davis for the season.
“We’ve never really had our whole team together,” Rhodes said. “We planned to come out with three seniors. For a while, we just had one. We’ve definitely had some freshmen step up.
“We’re excited now to show what we can do.”