COLUMBIA — The preseason is nearly over for the Missouri women’s basketball team, which will likely mean a sigh of relief from starting point guard Bekah Mills. Preseason practices have brought her bad luck in the past.
Mills heads into the season with a fully healed right knee. In two of the past three seasons, this wasn’t the case. She tore the ACL in her right knee in October 2007, just before what was supposed to be her first season as a Tiger. She recovered nicely, putting together a promising 2008-09 campaign in which she earned the spot of starting point guard as a redshirt freshman.
Missouri Tigers at Memphis Tigers
WHEN: 5 p.m. Friday
WHERE: FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
Missouri won both its exhibition games, 67-60 over Missouri Western and 68-66 over Oklahoma City. Memphis beat Christian Brothers 78-40 in its only exhibition.
She was ready to build on her first season before she tore the ACL in the same knee on the first day of practice last year, resulting in another year on the sidelines.
"After playing a year and then having to sit out again, it was just like a tease, like I didn’t quite get out there,” Mills said.
Mills says her knee is 100 percent healthy, but she still has to shake off the rust that comes from not playing basketball for an extended period of time. In Missouri’s two exhibition games this year, she was a combined 1-for-8 shooting from the field.
“I didn’t think I was really thinking about it too much the first game,” Mills said. “But just being out in front of fans and actually being in a game for the first time in a year, I think it affected me. I think I felt a lot more comfortable the second exhibition game.”
Mills has been with the basketball program for three years but has the playing experience of a sophomore. With her one year of playing experience coming more than a year ago, Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said she understands Mills’ slow start.
“That game experience can’t be replaced.” Pingeton said. “She has great passion and great basketball IQ, but she’s rusty around the edges. The only thing that’s going to help that is actually getting out and continuing to play. I think with every passing day she’s gaining more confidence in her knee.”
But despite sophomore playing experience, Pingeton expects Mills to lead like a senior.
“She’s our starting point guard,” Pingeton said. “I always feel like, at that position, you’re truly an extension of the coaching staff. With that comes a lot of responsibility.”
Mills said Pingeton tells her players that they should give it their all every day "by emptying their tanks." She shouldn’t have to tell that to Mills, who knows all too well that any play could be her last.
“It makes it a lot easier to go out there now and never take a day for granted and never take a day off and give it your all because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed,” Mills said.
Mills’ two college injuries followed one that occurred when she was in high school. Despite the setbacks, Mills might still have the opportunity to play four seasons for Missouri. She already used a redshirt her freshman year, but she can apply to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility upon graduation.
After her third ACL tear last year, Mills was already familiar with the recovery process. But this time, she took her recovery nice and slow, hoping to ensure that it won’t happen again.
“The first two times I was so focused on getting back,” Mills said. “But the third time I did it, it was like a wake up call. This is really my last go around. I don’t have another chance if I tear it again.”
Although Mills couldn’t have done anything to avoid the knee injuries, she said she feels like she has something to prove. And she doesn’t want any sympathy.
“I never want to be good enough for a girl that’s been hurt,” she said. “I just want to be looked at as a good player regardless of whether I’ve been injured or not. So I think I have something to prove to myself because I’ve always wanted to be successful at the college level, and I don’t think I’ve fully reached what I can do yet.”