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Jonas Shaffer | The Baltimore Sun | December 12, 2016

For UMD sisters, recovery from knee injuries hurts so good

  The Terps' Brionna Jones was named Big Ten player of the week this past week.

COLLEGE PARK — The night Stephanie Jones honored what has become a sibling tradition, her left knee resembled Jell-O. She still hasn't watched video of the play. Kevin Ware-esque is her comparison, if a slightly exaggerated one, since she avoided the former Louisville guard's bone-through-skin gruesomeness.

But it was bad, to be sure. The leg was covered up as Jones was helped off the floor, the drastic dislocation hidden from onlookers, like a screen for a racehorse having to be put down on the track. The Aberdeen girls basketball team's home game Jan. 14 against Fallston was less than a minute old, and Jones had four points and no chance of returning.

She headed for the hospital. When Brionna Jones, Stephanie's older sister and then a junior center on the Maryland women's basketball team, returned to her locker after a win at Michigan that night, she checked her phone: close to 10 missed calls. Something was amiss. Stephanie was hurt.

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"They told me something was wrong with her knee," Brionna recalled Thursday. "So then I was like: 'It's not her ACL, right?'"

Wishful thinking. When an MRI two days later confirmed the ligament damage, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Leigh Ann Curl joked with Stephanie and Brionna's father, Mike: "Maybe you all got an issue." The three oldest of his four children had all torn an ACL in high school; she came to perform the surgery on each.

The sisters' partnership this season for the Terrapins already has lasted longer than in their lone year together at Aberdeen. In the 10th game of the Eagles' 2012-13 campaign, Brionna, the reigning All-Metro Player of the Year, had her right knee buckle as she planted her foot for a layup in a home game against North Harford.

"The way it gave out, you're like, 'It was not ACL,'" Mike said. "It just looked like it hurt."

The diagnosis did: She was out for the season, and only 100-something points shy of becoming the first Harford County girls player to reach 2,000 for her career.

Three years later, Stephanie, now a senior, was approaching Brionna's points total. Early in the game against Fallston, she went up for a rebound and fell awkwardly. It looked to Mike, an Aberdeen assistant coach sitting courtside, as if she might have twisted her ankle. When he saw his wife come running out of the stands to tend to Stephanie, he knew it must be worse.

"The way my leg looked, I knew it wasn't good," Stephanie said. "My kneecap was, like, on the side."

It was a complete tear. She was told that if she completed about a month of pre-surgery rehabilitation before her operation in March, she could resume basketball-related activities as early as October. Which, Stephanie realized, wasn't much of a preseason. And if she couldn't play the way she felt she should, why not redshirt?

Brionna told her to focus on her recovery. That was Brionna's regret from her own freshman-year rehab: the feelings of inadequacy during the days when she was slower than she'd been in years -- and "I'm slow initially," she cracked. Brionna thought back to how she wondered whether she could even play at a power-conference level after her surgery.

She did not want the same for Stephanie, because for as different as they are -- Brionna likes pink, dominates inside and keeps her fire at a controlled burn; Stephanie favors purple, perimeter play and letting people know when she's fired up -- their matching knee scars linked them as much as their jerseys or surname.

They were quick to reunite in College Park. The day Stephanie graduated from Aberdeen in May, she moved in to her room in College Park for the start of summer classes and her rehab. During practice, Stephanie ran the stairs inside Xfinity Center, just as Brionna had. Stephanie worked with team athletic trainer Megan Rogers to run and cut and jump without needing a brace, just as Brionna had.

"And when she first got on the court, just shooting a basketball, she was just so excited," Brionna said. "Just seeing her happy again playing basketball, that was so exciting."

Mike smiled in recalling the one-on-one battles the sisters waged as kids on the dirt court in the family's backyard. "Not pretty," he said. The talent they honed, the competitiveness they forged -- they've made another winter of special moments possible.

This article is written by Jonas Shaffer from The Baltimore Sun and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.