COLUMBIA — When Bekah Mills heard a crack in her knee during a drill at practice Oct. 27 and tore her ACL and partially tore her MCL and meniscus, she was lost to the team for the season.
But the year will not be a waste for the freshman point guard. Although she won’t be able to take the floor with her teammates in practice or gain valuable game experience, she is able to watch her teammates and learn the team’s system in a redshirt season.
She spends most of practice in the training room, lifting weights and doing other exercises to strengthen her knee and get the full range of motion back. But she always observes practice when the team is working on a new play and is able to see how her teammates interact every day.
“I’m learning a lot just being able to watch the players out there and kind of get a feel for how they like to play, how they respond to things and get an idea of what the coaches want,” Mills said.
Watching practice is a good learning experience, but games are more valuable. Mills was expected to play significant minutes, but now she sits at the front of the bench with all the coaches right next to the scoring table and soaks in what each coach does to manage the game.
“She’s a point guard so she needs to think like we think,” coach Cindy Stein said. “Her sitting and absorbing everything is just like a redshirt quarterback. They have to take everything in and learn the system and that’s what she’s doing.”
Sitting with the coaches is a new experience for Mills, but one that’s helping her learn about the game and learn how to relate to the staff.
“You just hear what they want, what they expect, what makes them mad and what makes them happy,” Mills said. “You get the other side of things.”
Mills’ main job is to chart offensive plays. She watches the game and looks to see what plays are successful, what the opponent’s defense is doing well and where it is weak. It’s an important exercise for her as a point guard because she is able to look at game situations and learn what she should or shouldn’t do without having to deal with on-court success or failure.
“She’s just helping to recognize things that we need to execute or plays that we need to run, or what’s working,” Stein said. “We’re trying to get the mentality that if she were in there playing, what would she run and putting her through different situations and trying to execute from that standpoint.”
By doing that she’s able to help her teammates out during the game. Sophomore Toy Richbow said her fellow point guard yells out suggestions during the game that Richbow always takes.
“Sometimes there will be things going on in the game that I may not notice that she can see sitting on the sidelines,” Richbow said. “She might tell me ‘look weak side’ or ‘they’re playing left wing, go right.’”
Mills has made an impression on teammates even though she’s not on the court. Richbow has been impressed with her work ethic and her ability to absorb information and plays without being able to run them.
“When she’s sitting out here she pays attention, she’s very observant,” Richbow said. “She can learn just by watching, she doesn’t have to be out there. I listen to her, I respect her because she’s a very smart athlete.”
While the injury is frustrating right now, it could be beneficial in the long run. When Mills is a redshirt senior in four years the experience and knowledge she gained by watching from the bench this season will serve her well.
“I think it definitely will help,” Mills said. “I’ll get just another year of experience, not exactly on the court, but it’s another way to learn that some people don’t get the opportunity to have.”