The first one hurts the most.
Boys & Girls’ center Fatoumata Konare’s most trying first since coming to the U.S. three years ago is dealing with her first injury. The 6-foot-7 junior bumped knees with another player and tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her team’s season opener as a sophomore — causing her to miss an entire year of games and development. Konare emigrated from Mali to pursue a college education, and she considered never playing basketball again because of the long recovery time.
“It was because she never got hurt before,” Boys & Girls coach Laron Mapp said. “When the first injury of your life is ACL, [it’s] a major injury, and you are not used to it. You have to have good support around you.”
She had to wait until last December for surgery, because it took so long for her knee’s heavy swelling to subside. Konare slowly worked her way back with encouragement from her coach, teammates, and advisor Charles Barkley — an assistant with the Kangaroos, not the former National Basketball Association star of the same name.
“For her it is just the fear factor — ‘I can play, and there is nothing wrong with the knee,’ ” Barkley said.
Konare hesitated at first, even as she began light jogging, water workouts, and using resistance bands back in April and May. But 2016 is a new year — Konare has lost the 10–15 pounds she put on after surgery and said she is at 95 percent physically. Still, she was scared upon first returning.
“It was hard, but you just have to work hard to comeback,” she said.
And her work is far from done. Old Dominion, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, and a host of other mid-major colleges have expressed scholarship interest in Konare, who is averaging 4.5 points and 12 rebounds per game in Public School Athletic League play. She has plenty of potential but must now raise her skills to meet her athletic ability.
The injury limited her to just one full season of organized ball. Mapp is thinking of Konare’s first games this season as an exhibition rather than a true show of her prowess. He wants her to be a defensive shot-changer and rebounder for now — the rest will come in time.
“I believe she will be the best big man in the city,” Kangaroos senior guard Kathryn Kanhoye said.
Konare is waiting for a doctor’s OK to remove a knee brace she says slows her down — and she hopes there are no more roadblocks between her and the college scholarship she desires.
“I can do it,” Konare said.