By: Monty Mosher
The evidence of Lanae Adams' passion for basketball is written all over her knees. Both of them.
The 25-year-old Adams, a versatile wing in her first year with the Acadia Axewomen, has overcome seven knee operations, six on the right knee, to remain in the game she loves.
In her own mind, basketball was over for her two years ago when she had one knee reconstructed. After her family moved from Washington State to Georgia, she moved there with them to assist with special needs students at a middle school and coach the basketball team.
"Having a love and a passion for the game, it's just hard to stay away," Adams said. "It's almost like an addiction, just loving being on the court. It's always been something I wanted to do and something that drives me. I can't stay away."
It's been a winding road to the Annapolis Valley and she recognizes Acadia likely offered the last chance for her to play.
Injuries began in high school
She tore her anterior cruciate ligament twice as a high school player in the U.S. She believed those injuries probably ended any hope of playing at the collegiate level.
Her answer was to embark on an engineering program at St. Augustine's University in North Carolina. She was there for a year.
"But I just missed basketball so much," she said. "I tried to figure out how I could still play."
Highline College, a junior college near Seattle, offered her a scholarship to play there. She embraced the chance, but tore her ACL again.
But she was able to play for the Thunderbirds in her second year at the school.
At this point Acadia enters the picture, in a roundabout way.
Len Harvey, Acadia's current head coach, was coaching at Mount Royal University in Calgary. He recruited Adams, but there were problems with transferring credits, and Adams also had a renewed drive to make it to NCAA Division I.
NCAA chance in Arkansas
Despite all of the hard knocks, Adams got her Division I wish. She received a scholarship to play at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2014-15.
It wasn't entirely what she expected. She played in four games for a combined total of three minutes. She had a steal and a rebound. That was that.
"It was a good school and a good program, but when I got there it wasn't really the right fit," she said. "It wasn't what I expected. For me, I decided I couldn't do it."
She'd been in touch with the coach at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. Adams, born in Portland, Ore., and raised in Vancouver, Wash., would be able to move closer to where she grew up.
It all came together for her in the 2015-16 season with the Mariners. Playing in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association, she was a first-team all-star in her conference. She helped her team to the national championship tournament, where she was selected to the all-star team.
"I really enjoyed my time there, but unfortunately I tore my meniscus," she said. "I was like, 'OK, this might be it.'"
She returned her focus to her academics and completed a degree at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., in industrial organizational psychology.
Basketball in limbo
Her knee was a mess, leading to the full reconstruction.
With her degree, she moved to Georgia with her family to teach as a para-professional in a middle school. She coached the middle school basketball team as well as a travel club team.
Through it all she still missed playing basketball. At one point she reached out to Harvey thinking he was still at Mount Royal. To her surprise, Harvey had headed back to his native Nova Scotia to coach the Axewomen.
"Coming here, I did not know anybody and I did not know the conference," Adams said. "I did hear a lot that is was a strong conference. But to me basketball is basketball. It was an adjustment for sure but my coaches and my teammates are super supportive. And the strength and conditioning coaches, too. That's kind of what's gotten me through.
"When I arrived I really wasn't physically ready to play. Mentally I was total ready, but not physically. I've progressed tenfold since I came in September."
Despite her life experience, she's been treated like any other player. She gets some teasing now and then.
"I've got the knees of a 60-year-old. I've always got the ice bags at the end of the game. So that's a little joke we all have, but they treat me like they treat everyone else."
Harvey admires persistence
Harvey said he's long appreciated Adams' persistence to stay on the court.
"She is obviously an impactful player, but I've gotten to watch her adjust her game to continue to find ways to be effective and help the team after her injuries. She's brought even more leadership to our roster, and has a calm demeanour and approach that really influences the people around her.
"We joke about her being the old-timer on the team, but I don't think everyone realizes how much Lanae has gone through physically and mentally just to get to a place where she can play, let along be a meaningful contributor on a solid roster. I love her passion for the game, her toughness and her dedication to continue to play the sport she loves."
Adams has adjusted to the small school feel of Acadia. She said that's been "awesome" because she knows everybody in her master's program in community development.
She's done just fine through her first seven conference games. She's averaging 12 points and 9.3 rebounds in just over 29 minutes per game. Her minutes increased as the semester progressed.
The Axewomen won their last two games of the first term and will take a 5-2 record into the second half. They return to the floor Jan. 5 against Dalhousie.
"I wouldn't say I surprised myself," Adams said. "In the pre-season I struggled a lot, just body-wise and not really being fully prepared. That was pretty frustrating. So I just worked really hard. I still feel like I have a lot of room to grow. I'm at a good place right now but there is definitely room for improvement."
(Monty Mosher is an award-winning sportswriter in Nova Scotia with more than 30 years covering university sport. He can be reached at email@example.com)